By Johnna Ossie, News Editor
Republican Maine State Representative Richard Cebra of Naples plans to propose a bill that, if passed, would allow students to legally carry firearms on campus. The bill, “LR 635 An Act To Enhance Safety on College and University Campuses by Allowing Firearms To Be Carried on the Campuses of Public Colleges and Universities,” is still in title form has not yet been printed and introduced.
Rep. Cebra has cosponsored a bill by Senator Eric Brakey of Androscoggin, LD 44 that would lower the age to carry a concealed handgun from 21 to 18. He has also cosponsored LD 574, the summary of which reads, “This bill eliminates the provision of law that requires a person lawfully in possession of a concealed handgun without a permit during the course of a detainment or routine traffic stop to inform the law enforcement officer that the person is in possession of the handgun.”
According to Cebra, “Gun-free zones, also known as Disarmed Victim Zones, have been shown time and time again to be magnets for bad people to do bad things to good people.”
Professor Dušan Bjelić, from the Criminology, Economics and Sociology Departments, said that he has never heard “Gun Free Zones” be referred to as “Disarmed Victim Zones.”
“‘Disarmed Victim Zones’ kind of belongs, to me, to this new Trump linguistic counter information, like fake news or alternative facts,” Bjelić said. “[Cebra] doesn’t provide any evidence, although he says ‘gun free zones also known as ‘Disarmed Victim Zones.’ I’m a criminologist and I learned that term for the first time. He is inventing facts rather than substantiating evidence that there is a history of gun violence on any of the Maine campuses, and there is not.”
As of now, USM’s Weapons Policy reads, “Dangerous weapons, including but not limited to, firearms… are not permitted on property owned by or under the control of the [USM] and off-campus activities sponsored by the [USM].”
Bjelić also discussed how he believes the rhetoric of “good guys and bad guys” fails to address the complexities of campus and national political culture, and discussed some of the history surrounding the carrying of firearms, which he says has roots in slavery-era America.
“Historically this goes back to the time of slavery,” he said. “In South Carolina, white people were ordered to carry guns when they could go to public places [and] where they [could] encounter slaves. So the function of the gun, to carry a gun in public places, was to protect yourself from the slave.”
Bjelić wondered who gets to define who is a “good person” and who is a “bad person,” in the context of racism and Islamophobia in the current political and campus climate.
“In some sense, if somebody should worry about their security it should be Muslim students and immigrants,” he said. “By that logic, according to this proposal, they should be the ones who should be armed first. But I don’t think that intent is here. I hear it, reading between the lines, [the bill] is for the white people to defend themselves.”
A major concern among those opposed to allowing guns on campus is that it would increase campus violence. While universities are generally known to be places with low levels of violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that works to end gun violence, reports that factors such as drug and alcohol use combined with students carrying firearms could increase the risk of violence on campus.
A report from Everytown cites a Columbia University study which found that half of U.S. college students binge drink or use illegal or prescription drugs, and that almost a quarter of college students “suffer from substance abuse and dependence.” The report also found that students who carried guns on campus “were more likely than students who did not do so to report drinking heavily and, more frequently, driving while under the influence of alcohol and vandalizing property.”
Bjelić also addressed concerns that a climate of alcohol and drug use on college campuses mixed with guns could be deadly.
“If you add drugs and drinking on the campus with loaded guns,” Bjelić said, “what is there that would prevent, let’s say, drunk students playing Russian roulette?”
Rep. Cebra believes that allowing students to carry guns on campus would increase campus safety.
“This bill would help restore that ability to lawful citizens currently being denied their most personal and sacred right in specific places,” he said. “Good people must have the ability to keep and protect themselves from harm regardless of location.”
Alex Shaffer, co-chair of the USM College Republicans and second-year history major, said he would need to know more about the bill to form a definite opinion, but that he would be in support.
“I support this legislation, for if it is implemented properly it will allow students to exercise their second amendment right, and at the same time cut down on the crime rate at the university,” Shaffer said. “Personally I believe allowing firearms on a university campus has both positives and negatives, and that little is known about the bill to know if it is what is best for the university and state as a whole.”
In an online survey of forty-eight USM students, twelve reported that they would support a bill that allowed guns on campus, thirty-four said that they would not support the bill and two said they did not know if they would support it.
Ben Bussiere, senior political science major and president of USM Young Americans for Freedom, said he believes that students should be allowed to carry firearms on campus, concealed or open. Bussiere believes that students carrying guns would make campus safer, in particular for women.
“I think it would be a significant deterrent for criminals and students who have the intent of sexually assaulting women, which we know, on campuses throughout America, that the sexual assault of women on campuses is a problem,” Bussiere said. “I think that concealed carry permits for women or anyone on campus would be significant.”
Bjelić explained that he does not believe guns are the way to address sexual assault on campus.
“We know in robbery and burglary, whoever tries to defend themselves with guns end up being more injured than those who cooperate…,” he said. “I would suggest instead of carrying guns, first of all, insist on the policy at the university…awareness of sexual abuse on campus, which is underreported. We have to have university administration very much aware of this and doing everything possible to identify and punish sexual aggressors.”
Bjelić went on to suggest that campuses provide, among other things, training for students to defend themselves physically against sexual aggressors without the use of firearms.
Emma Donnelly, second-year social work and women and gender studies double major and resident assistant in Gorham, expressed concern about students carrying guns on campus, and said that she would feel concerned knowing students in dorms were carrying weapons.
“I fear that if people started to carry, they’d be more likely to use a gun…Also as a resident assistant, I would be nervous about on-campus residents having weapons in their rooms,” Donnelly said. Bussiere suggested resident assistants should be trained to teach other students gun safety.
Student senator, SGA Chief of Staff and first-year political science major Shaman Kirkland explained that he feels the proposal that students should carry guns on campus is a threat to democracy. Kirkland explained that he does not feel people outside of USM should be making decisions about what happens on USM’s campus with regards to guns.
“This has almost nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It’s a matter of those being exclusively affected by a law having the ability to set it,” Kirkland said. “[The bill] would mean anyone could walk around on campus with a firearm and we could do nothing about it. I am ashamed and outraged by this bill and will do everything in my power to stop it.”