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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Universities smart to ban guns on campus property

The gun controversy at Gonzaga University has drawn national attention, but it doesn’t warrant policy changes that would allow weapons at that private institution, or its public counterparts.

On Oct. 24, seniors Erik Fagan and Daniel McIntosh faced a man who they say knocked on their apartment door, entered and asked for money. When the intruder wouldn’t leave, McIntosh retrieved and brandished a pistol, which apparently prompted the intruder’s departure. The students reported the incident to campus police, who subsequently seized the pistol and a shotgun because the campus has a strict no-guns policy that extends to its off-campus housing, where the duo live. The two students said they weren’t aware of the policy, which is published in the student handbook.

Whether the campus police needed to return at 2 a.m. to confiscate the weapons is questionable; that could have waited until later in the day. The students did not pose a threat, and they had just been through a disturbing encounter.

The university ultimately put the students on probation, and campus police returned the weapons after making certain they would not be stored in the apartment or anywhere on campus. The students could have been expelled, and they ought to be relieved they were spared that consequence.

However, they still believe they should be allowed to keep weapons at campus property, and they’ve garnered support from gun rights proponents from around the country. This is misguided.

For one thing, Gonzaga is within its rights to preclude weapons on private property. As Stewart Jay, a University of Washington law professor noted, “From a constitutional perspective, this is an easy case.”

If renters aren’t comfortable with the prohibition, they should lease housing elsewhere.

This issue has also arisen at public universities, where it’s handled differently from state to state. After some on-campus incidences, particularly the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University, some state legislatures moved to ease campus prohibitions on guns, but most have held their fire, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures report. Utah is the only state that prevents colleges and universities from banning concealed weapons.

Washington and Idaho are among 22 states that leave that decision up to each public institution. The University of Washington and Washington State University prohibit weapons on campus. So does the University of Idaho, despite multiple efforts by lawmakers to allow concealed weapons.

We support those bans, and Gonzaga’s. It’s simply not wise to mix guns with the party atmosphere and general risk-taking of young adults on their own for the first time. If universities aren’t sufficiently protecting students, then steps should be taken to improve security.

But “guns allowed” is not a message any institution of higher learning should promote.

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