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article imageAmericans split on allowing guns on campus

By Sebastien Blanc (AFP)     May 5, 2016 in World

Should university students and professors be allowed to bring guns on campus? Americans are divided on the issue with no end in sight to the deadly shootings that regularly rock the nation.

The United States -- where gun violence kills some 90 people a day -- has been hit by rampages at institutions of higher learning in recent years.

But opinions differ on how to prevent such massacres, with some arguing that arming up is key, while others are pushing for tougher gun control.

This week, Tennessee became the latest state to allow concealed firearms on its publicly funded college and university campuses.

On the other end of the spectrum, the governor of Georgia vetoed a similar bill just days ago after it was easily approved by local lawmakers.

"From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed," Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, said in announcing his veto.

"To depart from such time honored protections should require overwhelming justification."

- Virginia Tech trauma -

A memorial for the 32 shooting victims in front of Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 -...
A memorial for the 32 shooting victims in front of Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 -- the debate over guns on campus comes in the wake of several deadly campus shootings in recent years
Tim Sloan, AFP/File

The debate comes in the wake of several deadly campus shootings in recent years, most notably at Virginia Tech in 2007, where a student gunman killed 32 people before taking his own life.

More recently, a shooter killed nine people at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon in 2015. And in 2012, a man methodically gunned down seven people at Oikos University in Oakland, California.

The all-powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) claims that such shooting tolls would never be reached if students had the right to carry weapons to protect themselves.

Under the leadership of the gun lobby, at least 19 states introduced legislation to allow the concealed carrying of guns on campus in 2013, and at least 14 states introduced similar legislation in 2014, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). But only a couple of those bills were passed and enacted, it said.

In contrast, according to the NCSL, shootings pushed lawmakers in five states to introduce legislation to prohibit concealed carry weapons on campus in 2013 -- but none of the measures passed.

The result is a complicated mosaic, with some 20 states banning arms on campus, some 20 others leaving the choice up to educational institutions, and the remainder allowing the carrying of guns under certain conditions, including being permit holders. The last group includes Colorado, Idaho and Kansas.

- Unarmed at disciplinary meetings -

Activists who support stricter gun laws protest outside the Republican presidential debate on Octobe...
Activists who support stricter gun laws protest outside the Republican presidential debate on October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado
Andrew Burton, Getty/AFP/File

In Tennessee and Arkansas, carrying a fireman on campus is limited to staff and faculty. And the new Tennessee law, which takes effect July 1, still bans guns from disciplinary meetings or public events at gyms, for example.

In Mississippi, a student or teacher can go to class armed after he or she has gone through training on handling the weapon with a certified instructor.

The biggest recent pro-gun victory was in Texas, where, as of August 1, concealed handgun license holders will be allowed to bring their weapons onto the campuses of public universities -- including into dorms and gyms.

The date the law will take effect was not chosen at random -- it coincides with the 50th anniversary of a mass shooting by a gunman perched on the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin.

Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor emeritus at the university, caused a stir when he said he was leaving because of the law.

"With a huge group of students, my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law," he wrote in an open letter.

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