Derek Sommer carries a concealed handgun almost everywhere he goes these days, including onto the campus of Idaho State University – an illegal act until recently.
Under an Idaho law that took effect July 1, nearly 3,000 Idaho residents with enhanced concealed carry permits – people like Sommer – can bring their guns on campuses. Sommer no longer leaves his gun at home or in his car’s locked glove compartment.
Idaho became the seventh state to allow “campus carry” in a movement gaining traction across the country, despite the often strenuous opposition of other students, faculty and campus administrators.
Spurred by recent high-profile campus shootings, grassroots groups like Students for Concealed Carry (SCC) are pushing for the right to carry weapons on campus, sometimes with the backing of larger gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.
For Sommer, 23, a computerized machining student who founded Idaho State’s SCC chapter, carrying his handgun means protection for himself, his wife, McKinley, and their 7-month-old daughter, Andi.
“It makes me angry, it really does,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that there are places where it’s considered OK to tell somebody, ‘You don’t have the right to protect yourself.’ “
For others, like Boise State University student Angel Hernandez, 24, the new law means less focus on learning and more on worrying about who’s packing a gun on campus.
“I went to Boise State to get an education. I didn’t go to Boise to go to a gun show,” he said.
Opponents of campus-carry laws have seen mixed success. Arkansans Against Guns on Campus got lawmakers to exclude students from a law letting faculty and staff bring concealed guns onto campus if their college grants permission. Attempts to start a Colorado referendum to end campus carry there ended in failure.
Groups like SCC, meanwhile, have active chapters in at least 30 states, mobilizing as many as 30,000 students and faculty to support laws and court cases favorable to the cause, said group spokesman Kurt Mueller.
The group occasionally makes local headlines when members gather to wear empty holsters to promote campus carry – from Washington state to Michigan and Florida. It operates with little funding, relying instead on volunteers and social media for recruitment and chapter operations, Mueller said.
“We don’t have professional lobbyists,” he said. “We don’t pay anybody to lobby. People do it for free because it’s what they believe in.”
A News21 analysis of on-campus shootings found 87 of them, or 60 percent, have happened in the last decade. Campus-carry supporters nationwide said in interviews that the increase in shootings partly influenced their desire to bring concealed guns on campus.
SCC was formed after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Mueller argues that an armed student could have stopped the shooter without waiting for police to arrive.
“The confrontation would have ended a lot sooner,” he said. “Lives would have been saved.”
Campus-carry supporters point to the legal doctrine of preemption, which says only the state legislature can regulate guns in the state. No other government in the state, such as cities and counties, can make gun rules. Many states exempt K-12 schools and some public buildings from concealed carry of guns.