Only weeks after the Aurora theater shooting, CU Denver philosophy professor Chad Kautzer has created a petition to stop concealed weapons from being allowed on state campuses. But the two ideas are not connected, he says: Kautzer has been contemplating the response since the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the 2003 Concealed Carry Act applies to campuses, and he delayed announcing his efforts out of respect for the victims of the shooting and their families.
In early March, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned the University of Colorado's longtime ban on firearms, concluding that the CU Board of Regents had overstepped its boundaries and violated the state's protections. Under the act, anyone 21 or older who has a legal permit may carry a concealed weapon "in all areas of the state" (with a few official exceptions) -- but for almost a decade, the CU Board of Regents continued to enforce its system-wide ban. In 2009, three students launched a suit, which made its way through several judicial layers before reaching the state's highest.
There, the court's final decision divested the board of its power in the issue and expanded the act's providence to include state college campuses. That decision struck Kautzer as alarming, though he agrees it's a correct reading of state law. As he noticed more states moving in the same direction on college campuses, he spent the intervening months discussing his concerns with dozens of students and fellow educators. In order to be successful, Kautzer's efforts would require a change in state legislation.
"A lot of people are very uncomfortable" with allowing guns on campus, "especially because our students are under stress in familial, military, medical, tons of contexts," Kautzer says. Not all of his peers and the student body agree with his stance, and some have spoken out against it, but "many of us don't feel comfortable allowing students to come in with firearms in that context. The general consensus is that firearms on campus do not make people safer, especially given the stressed states that often come with the people there."
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Already, Kautzer's petition -- currently at 97 of 100 targeted signatures -- has earned anger and criticism from gun proponents, who argue that allowing firearms on campus protects students from possible danger. The Colorado Springs Gazette ran an editorial condemning Kautzer's effort as a "nonsensical." Others accuse him of not respecting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and their right to bear arms -- something he calls a "red herring."
"This is a state issue, not a federal one, and all the defenses being made are hypothetical and based on mass shooters," Kautzer says. "'If only we had been there in the theater,' they say. They always think about the other person being the criminal and not situations of road rage or depression or any of those issues where a law-abiding situation with a permit could break."
And the fact cannot be ignored that James Holmes, the central suspect in the Aurora theater shooting, was a student at Kautzer's institution, if not his campus. "I'm not advocating this as if my policy position would stop mass shootings," Kautzer insists. "That's not the case. A lot of people look at this as a solution to mass shootings, and it is not. I have no idea what the solution is to mass shootings. All I know is that a lot of us are uncomfortable with people bringing guns to our campus."
More from our Politics archive: "Aurora theater shooting: Ed Perlmutter and the challenge of talking about gun control."