Group challenges UA firearms policy

Andrew Sheeler / Sun Star Reporter
Dec. 15, 2009

Schaeffer Cox inspects the weapons prohibition notice outside of the UAF Wood Center.

“This is a public university that receives public funding and is therefore compelled to abide by the Constitution and the limits that it sets forward, like ‘don’t infringe on the right to keep and bear arms,’” said Schaeffer Cox as he sat in one of the chairs of the Wood Center multilevel lounge.

Cox was clean-shaven and wearing what he called his signature hat.  He also wore a button-up white shirt, jeans, a wool jacket, and a concealed handgun.

That last item is in direct, and intentional, violation of the policy set down by the University Board of Regents over a decade ago.  The policy states,

“The carrying of a concealed handgun is prohibited on the property of the university, in a university office or classroom in a building not on university property or at a university-sponsored activity or meeting not on university property provided appropriate notice is posted in the manner provided by law.”

The residence halls actually go a bit further than that, banning martial arts weapons, paintball guns, knives bigger than a pocketknife, and archery equipment from all student housing.  All such weapons, if students choose to own them, must be stored in a secure storage vault underneath Walsh Hall, next to the university police department.

Lt. Syrilyn Tong, of the UAF police department, estimated that the department stores around 25 firearms in that facility.  “We don’t like to have them obviously in the residence halls, and so that’s what the primary storage for this facility is,” said Tong as she stood inside the storage room.  A pair of wooden shelves contains a number of rifles and shotguns and even a bow.  A metal cabinet holds smaller handguns, ammunition, and assorted martial arts weaponry “Every now and then, maybe about once a semester, someone is not aware of the residence hall policies…maybe some of them knowingly violate the policy, in which case residence hall usually confiscates them, turns them over to us, and we store them for the purpose of the student,” Tong said. Such weapons aren’t seized, she said, and those students can claim their weapons at any time.

The basis of Cox’s contention, and that of the Second Amendment Task Force, a local gun rights advocacy group, for which he is the spokesperson, is that the university policy banning handguns is both unlawful and unenforceable.  “My advice to people who don’t like that rule is just to break that rule,” Cox said.  He said he believes that the right and the duty to defend one’s self “far supersedes any decision given out by the Board of Regents.”  Cox says that police protection on campus is a “promise that can’t be kept.” Cox accused the regents of being “edu-crats” who view people as a commodity.

He says that his outlook on guns was strongly influenced by an event that took place over a decade ago.

Ten years ago, Cox was being home-schooled in Littleton, Colorado.  Although he didn’t attend school there, Cox said he knew many students at Columbine High School, including some who were killed when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on their rampage.  Cox says that the inability of the police to put a stop to the shooting and the tragic death toll – 15 students died, including Klebold and Harris – convinced him that had one or more people been armed at the school that day, the shooters would have been stopped much sooner.

Chancellor Brian Rogers has a different point of view.  He said he believes UAF is “at the gun-friendly end of the spectrum” for colleges and universities, citing the free storage of firearms on campus and a number of firearms-related classes taught at the university.  “We’re all pretty proud of the rifle team,” Rogers said, mentioning that many schools don’t even have a rifle team.  While Rogers said he was vaguely familiar with Cox and the Second Amendment Task Force, he has, to date, not heard anything from them regarding their dissatisfaction with the university policy.  Rogers invited Cox, or anybody else who might be unhappy with the policy, to go before the Board of Regents and make their thoughts known.

Cox expressed little interest in such a meeting, and has not yet initiated any contact.  He believes that there would be little chance of the board changing their policy, so he instead ignores the policy and encourages others to do likewise.

When asked how he felt about the campus policy, Rogers pointed out that, “We haven’t had any shooters, we haven’t had any suggestions for changing the policy.”  He says that according to the police, in the past five years there have been roughly a half dozen weapons misconduct issues, but that those were all handled by the UAF police in accordance to state laws and not university policy.

Cox says that many students approach him to complain about the campus firearms ban, but there are also many on campus who support the ban and would be opposed to a change in that policy. Brien Ashdown, an assistant professor in the UAF psychology department, said, “If guns are allowed on campus I only see things becoming worse, not better.”

In the office next door, Assistant Professor Julieann Pankey says, “I really do believe that everybody deserves a learning environment that is safe…I would want everyone to feel like they are paying for an education here, and we are providing it, and I would want them to feel safe.”

In the English department, Leah Aronow-Brown, an administrative assistant, says, “I’m a huge supporter of the Second Amendment, all of my family are life-time NRA members, but [guns] don’t belong on campus.”

Likewise, Bill Schnabel, the director of the Water and Environmental Research Center located in the Institute of Northern Engineering says, “I’m comfortable living with the prospect that bad people will come around with guns.  I understand that happens, but I also understand it doesn’t happen very frequently.  I think there’s a whole lot more chance of running into some carnage if everybody’s armed.”

Adrian Baer, a geography major, says that it’s also a question of property rights. “It’s all up to the administrators, really. It’s their property.”

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) released a statement in 2008 that said there was “no credible evidence to suggest that the presence of students carrying concealed weapons would reduce violence on college campuses.”  The IACLEA position was based on research performed at Johns Hopkins University for Gun Policy and Research. The majority of campuses in the United States are gun-free.

In the end, the policy forbidding guns on campus is “small fish,” Cox said. He says that his group has limited resources and so mainly just advises people to ignore the policy.  Cox says his greater concern involves the city, state, or federal government enacting a firearms ban, which he calls “an act of war.”  Cox says, “We would spill blood before we let that happen.”

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3 Responses

  1. Lynne Snifka says:

    Excellent story.

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