Chapel Hill, N.C. — University of North Carolina President Tom Ross said Monday that he's concerned about legislation moving through the state House that would allow people to have guns on university campuses.
House Bill 937 passed a House committee last week. It was scheduled to go before the full House Tuesday, but it was pulled off the calendar so legislative staff could determine whether the changes in the bill would create any additional cost to the state.
Under the proposal, concealed handgun permit holders would be able to lock their handguns in their cars when they park on college campuses, including all public community college and UNC campuses. Independent colleges and universities in North Carolina would have the choice of whether to allow firearms on campus but would have to post a prohibition.
Ross said 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." He noted that some UNC campuses have high school and middle school students taking classes there, and some host summer camps for younger children.
Vehicle break-ins rank among the top campus crimes, which could lead to guns winding up in the wrong hands, he said. Also, officers responding to a report of an armed robbery or an active shooter on campus might mistake a bystander with a weapon for a criminal suspect.
"The potential for tragedy far outweighs any potential benefit or convenience to concealed-carry permit holders," Ross said in a statement. "We encourage the General Assembly to remove the provision that would allow guns to be brought onto UNC and other college and university campuses."
Jack Moorman, chief of the North Carolina State University Police Department, spoke against the bill last week in committee, noting that some concealed weapon permit holders have made threats on campus before.
"Some of these individuals who have CCW permits are not people we feel comfortable about carrying a firearm on our campus," Moorman told lawmakers.
On Monday, Jeff McCracken, director of public safety at UNC-Chapel Hill, expressed his opposition as well.
"While intended to promote safety, this legislation allowing additional guns on public campuses actually would make colleges and universities less safe. Even allowing weapons to be kept only in locked vehicles is not secure," McCracken said in a statement.
Paul Valone, president of gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, said his organization wanted even fewer restrictions on guns on campuses than are allowed in the bill.
"The entire purpose of this is deterrence. We are looking at deterring violent sociopaths from crimes on campuses," Valone said.
Representatives of the National Rifle Association, Grass Roots North Carolina and other gun owner rights groups have endorsed the bill, saying it granted changes long sought by gun owners.
In addition to college campuses, the bill would allow concealed handgun permit holders to carry their firearms into bars, restaurants and other places where alcohol is served unless the owners posted a "no firearms" sign.