Group pushes for guns at colleges

Mar. 24--If Green Bay gun dealer Eric Thompson had his way, college students would carry more than just books.

In his vision, the next college shooter is thwarted by a student armed with one of Thompson's guns -- averting a massacre, saving lives.

Thompson's Internet-based business TGSCOM Inc. sold weapons to the shooters at both Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech universities. First, he said, he felt grief for the victims. Then, a sense of resolve. Not to stop selling guns, but to advocate for guns on campus.

"The perfect situation is that nothing ever happens like that again," Thompson said. " . . . But in a last-ditch scenario, you are able to protect yourself."

Now he is partnering with Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a national group that next month will hold an "empty-holster" protest against university gun-free zones. Thompson will donate holsters to the group, adding a high-profile touch to a small but growing push for guns on campus.

Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, born after Virginia Tech, has grown to 22,000 members. And at least 14 states -- not including Wisconsin -- are considering legislation to allow concealed weapons on campus.

Critics decry the idea, saying it would only increase violence on campus. Educators have responded to high-profile college shootings by adding security measures such as text-message alerts and bolstering mental health services such as counseling and advising.

The movement faces a double hurdle in Wisconsin and Illinois -- the only two states that bar concealed weapons for the public. But that hasn't stopped Students for Concealed Carry on Campus from sprouting up at Marquette and Lawrence universities and Madison Area Technical College.

Marquette senior Michael Neiduski, 21, grieved for friends of friends who died when shooter Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech last April.

"I was in mourning and sadness for that," Neiduski said. " . . . Along with that, I sort of wish that those students had the opportunity to protect themselves."

That's when Neiduski joined Students for Concealed Carry, becoming its leader at Marquette. He and about 15 students wrote letters to U.S. senators and to pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Association, urging support for concealed-carry laws.

Neiduski grew up hunting and fishing in Massachusetts. His father and grandfather had concealed-carry permits because they believed strongly in the Second Amendment and the Boy Scout mantra, "Be Prepared." His father's work as a property owner required that he carry large amounts of cash.

Neiduski's family is also no stranger to violence. His grandparents were once held at gunpoint at their home in Florida. His grandfather was stabbed to death by a family acquaintance.

"Everybody thinks, 'That can't happen to me,' " Neiduski said. "Whereas for me . . . I'm aware it can."

Allowed only in Utah

Some 29 states, including Wisconsin, bar concealed weapons on campus. In other states, almost all universities ban concealed weapons. The only state that allows it is Utah, which has nine public campuses.

Sen. Fred Risser (D- Madison) said no bills have been introduced this session in Wisconsin proposing a concealed-carry permit.

"I think the premise that the one in a million times that you might use it to sort of repel a berserk person on campus is more than offset by the fact that if you allowed (guns) on campus you'd have many more incidences of . . . accidental or even intentional shootings," Risser said.

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence spokesman Doug Pennington cited two studies showing that even trained law-enforcement officers hit their targets only about 20% of the time.

"To argue that putting semi-automatic handguns in the hands of college students is somehow going to be more effective than law enforcement demands proof," he said.

Plus, arming students could make it easier for would-be shooters to bring guns onto campus, he said.

Cho, for example, had been judged an "imminent danger" to himself and others by a state court but was still able to legally purchase a gun from Thompson's company.

Pam Hodermann, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's chief of police, said the focus should be on preventing troubled students from ever resorting to violence.

"I don't think you can stop it in any way other than stopping it in the mind of the person who does it," she said. " . . . I don't think having other students carry guns is the real answer."

Thompson said he's gotten hateful e-mails threatening to harm his wife and children. The notes anger him, but they haven't changed his mind about whether he's to blame.

"No, I didn't feel any personal responsibility," Thompson said. "Both of these murderers, they were able to get their weapons legally. They were able to pass background checks."

Copyright (c) 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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