Why guns and college campuses don't mix

May 13, 2016
UCF Police Chief Richard Beary weighs in on hot-button issue

Between 2001 and 2013, the overall number of crimes reported by postsecondary institutions decreased by 34 percent, from 41,600 to 27,600, according to a report recently published by the National Center for Education Statistics. Despite this downward trend, it seems that student fears about crime, and mass shootings in particular, have never been higher. This has led many states in recent years to pass legislation allowing students and faculty members with concealed carry permits to bring their weapons onto campus, usually in the face of fierce opposition from the schools themselves.

Earlier this month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he would allow a guns-on-campus bill passed by the state legislature to become law without his signature. The measure, Senate Bill 2376, allows full-time faculty and other employees at the state’s public colleges to carry guns on campus so long as they have a permit and notify local law enforcement of their intentions. The bill does not allow students to go armed on campus. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal recently vetoed legislation that would have allowed students to bring firearms onto public college campuses in that state.

While there are certainly plenty of politicians and pundits eager to share their opinion on both sides of the issue, one of the voices that is seldom heard from or sometimes overlooked in this ongoing debate is that of the people who are actually charged with ensuring the safety of everyone on campus. One prominent law enforcement figure who has decided to weigh in on this hot-button topic is Richard Beary, chief of police at the University of Central Florida and immediate past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

This week, SIW was invited to take a behind-the-scenes look at the UCF Police Department and Emergency Operations Center as part of a tour ahead of ASIS 2016, which is scheduled to take place in Orlando in September. UCF is the second largest university in the nation with a student enrollment of nearly 63,000 and more than 11,000 faculty and staff members. During the tour, Beary, who has nearly 40 years of law enforcement experience, weighed in how he believed allowing guns on campus could adversely impact the security of students and faculty members within the UCF community.    

Although Florida has yet to pass legislation enabling students or staff members to bring firearms onto campus, Beary, who has been a firearms instructor for nearly 30 years and says he is in no way “anti-gun,” believes that it is probably only a matter of time before the state legislature does. This concerns Beary for several reasons, not the least of which is the low threshold required to obtain a concealed carry permit in the state.

“To get a concealed weapons permit in the State of Florida, all you have to do is go to any gun show or go to a class that may last 45 minutes and you get a permit. You don’t even have to pull the trigger of a gun, you don’t have to fire a round or demonstrate proficiency and then there is never a recertification,” explains Beary. “As long as you keep paying, you could actually go blind and still have your concealed weapons permit. It’s a disgrace and the biggest problem is then when [activist] groups go before our legislature because they want campus carry, they go in and say, ‘Anyone with a concealed weapons permit has been trained.’ They have not been trained, that’s not even familiarization. Forty-five minutes with a gun is not training, but these people come out of these classes and they think they have this skill that they don’t have.”

Additionally, Beary says that when drugs and alcohol are factored into the equation with ill-trained students carrying handguns that it’s simply a recipe for disaster.

“One of the battles I have with NRA is they say the police chiefs are just trying to hype this. Take a look around,” says Beary. “Look at what happened in Texas last week. A guy got shot and killed because instead of calling police he grabbed his gun and challenged a guy who was armed, who disarmed him and killed him. The other thing that worries me is because people are so afraid of the hype and now we’re putting a gun in their hand and not training them, I just don’t see where it’s going to have a good outcome. What’s bothersome for me is that our elected officials won’t even talk to us.”

There’s also the added danger if guns are allowed on campus of police officers having to quickly decipher if an armed person is a Good Samaritan or someone with malicious intentions. 

“Right now, we know that if somebody is here on campus with a gun, it’s a good guy. But what are we going to do in the future if they allow guns on campus? How are we supposed to separate them out?” asks Beary. “Look at the position you’re putting our officers into of having to, in a split-second, figure out the good guys from the bad guys.”

In discussing the issue with lawmakers, Beary says he has told them he might feel differently if the state had a more stringent training requirement to obtain a concealed carry permit, but there hasn’t been any indication that that is going to change anytime soon.

“Going through 45 minutes [of training] without pulling the trigger on a weapon and that now all of sudden allows you to carry a gun on this campus where I have officers that we train thousands and thousands of hours? And, let’s face it, some of these folks want to be heroes,” added Beary. “Some think they’re cops and we’re giving them that ability and reinforcing it. Here you go, here’s your gun you can carry anything you want. So if you have a concealed weapons permit, you can carry the biggest gun you want and 25 magazines; this is insane.”

In 2013, at least 19 states introduced legislation to allow concealed carry of guns on campus in some regard, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two of those bills passed, one in Kansas that allows concealed carry generally and one in Arkansas that allows faculty to carry. The following year, at least 14 states introduced similar legislation. In August, a campus carry bill passed last year by the Texas legislature is set go into effect. There are currently eight states that have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public college campuses and there are 19 states that ban the practice.