RALEIGH — If the University of North Carolina can’t protect its students from violent crime, at least it should let students protect themselves, Grassroots North Carolina argues in a radio ad running statewide.
The gun rights group is lambasting UNC system President Tom Ross for opposing a bill that would allow students and faculty to “better protect themselves” from “rampant” violent crime by allowing them to keep guns locked in their cars on campus.
House Bill 937, among other things, would allow concealed handgun permit holders to keep guns in a locked compartment on college campuses. It also would allow faculty and staff living on campus — except in dorms — to keep guns in their residences.
The bill passed the House 78-42 and is on Tuesday’s calendar in the Senate Judiciary I Committee.
The group’s president, Paul Valone, says while his preference would be a measure allowing concealed carry campuswide, H.B. 937 still would serve to deter violent predators away from college campuses.
In a press release, Valone cites statistics showing the rate of sexual assault on UNC campuses is higher than that of the average American college campus. He argues letting students keep guns in their cars could reduce the rate drastically and questions why UNC officials oppose the policy so adamantly.
Ross and campus police have spoken out against the bill, saying it would hamper their ability to protect students, and that vehicle break-ins could result in guns “falling into the wrong hands.”
A UNC spokeswoman claimed overall violent crime rates on UNC campuses were below the national average, while conceding the rate of sexual assault was 50 percent higher. The university is under federal investigation, allegedly for underreporting rape and sexual assault.
“Just hours after North Carolina State University officials testified against H.B. 937, a student was raped outside the [North Carolina State University] Free Expression Tunnel,” said a GRNC press release. “Another was robbed at knife point near Reynolds Coliseum [on the N.C. state campus] two days later.”
There have been 35 sexual assaults reported at UNC Chapel Hill in three years, a rate 50 percent higher than the national average for college campuses, the press release continues. But the real number may be much higher, as UNC Chapel Hill is under investigation by the federal government allegedly for underreporting incidences of sexual assault.
Elizabeth City State University — another of the 17 campuses in the UNC system — also faces an investigation for failing to investigate 125 criminal complaints, including 18 sexual assaults, going back to 2007, the press release notes.
Valone accuses Ross and the system’s 17 chancellors and police chiefs — who oppose the bill — of “malfeasance” for not protecting students or allowing them to protect themselves.
Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for Ross, responded to the accusation in an email, saying:
“Campus police and security officers across the University work diligently to promote campus safety, and data collected and reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that the incidence of violent crimes on UNC campuses is below the national rate. President Ross stands by his position on this issue.”
Worthington provided a link to the FBI’s general crime statistics webpage to reinforce her assertion.
Valone countered that listing crimes reported on campus tells only part of the story; the rate of violent crime adjacent to the campuses is another matter. “Hillsborough and Franklin streets [in Chapel Hill] seem to be particularly problematic. One might also expect the same at UNC Charlotte, which borders high crime areas in northeast Charlotte.”
Ross expressed his position April 29 in a statement:
“All UNC chancellors and chiefs of police believe allowing guns on campus would increase the risk to public safety and hamper our ability to protect not only our students, staff and faculty, but also campus visitors, including parents, siblings of students, and summer camp participants,” Ross said.
He added, “Vehicle break-ins are one of the leading crimes on college campuses, and even guns brought lawfully onto campus, as contemplated by this bill, could fall into the wrong hands and result in serious injury or death.”
While Valone thinks permit holders should be allowed to carry their concealed weapons anywhere on campus, he supports the compromise legislation that at least would allow them to keep their guns in their cars.
Outlawing guns on college campuses leaves students unprotected not only on campus, but also on their way to and from campus, Valone said.
“Anytime you transit campus — even if you drive down Hillsborough Street, since the University says it owns half of Hillsborough Street — with a gun in your car, you’re a felon,” Valone said.
In addition to allowing people to protect themselves on their way to and from campus, Valone said, allowing guns in cars can protect people on campus. Aside from creating a general deterrent effect, the locked away guns can be retrieved and stop violent predators in their tracks.
Valone noted that the assistant principal at the Pearl High School shooting in Pearl, Miss., retrieved his firearm from his truck and detained the shooter in the parking lot. The same thing happened at Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., he said. Two students retrieved guns from their truck and detained a shooter until the authorities arrived. (See Editor’s Note at the end of this story.)
While it is possible for a vehicle break-in to occur on campus and a gun end up in a criminal’s hands, Valone said, that scenario could happen anywhere.
“But the question is, on balance, what does a public policy do? Every public policy has an upside and a downside. The theoretical possibility that somebody might obtain a firearm illegally is much outweighed by the deterrence of violent crime, by being able to deter something like [the mass shooting at] Virginia Tech.”
Sara Burrows is a contributor to Carolina Journal.
(Editor’s Note: This story originally stated an incident occurred at Appalachian State University rather than Appalachian School of Law. The story was corrected after publication.)