Schools Revisit Gun Policies After Va. Tech Rampage

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Last week's deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech shattered the image of college campuses as idyllic sanctuaries of safety. Virginia Tech — like most American universities — forbids students from carrying guns on campus. Now many schools are re-evaluating their gun policies.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington sitting in for Neal Conan.

Last week's deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech shattered the image of college campuses as idyllic sanctuaries of safety. Virginia Tech, like most American universities, forbids students from carrying guns on campus.

Gun laws vary from state to state and campus to campus. Now, many schools are re-evaluating their gun policies, all wondering what change might make their campuses safer.

Later on the Opinion Page, confronting a sense of shared responsibility in the Korean-American community, and remembering former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. But first guns on college campuses.

Does your campus police force carry weapons? Should they? And should students be allowed to carry guns? If you're a student or campus police officer, we want to hear from you. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org, and you can also join the conversation on our blog. It's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

We begin in Syracuse, New York. Like many universities across the country, campus safety at Syracuse University is enforced with guns. Joining us now is Anthony Callisto, Jr., the interim chief of public safety at Syracuse University. He joins us from the WAER studios at Syracuse University. Welcome.

Mr. ANTHONY CALLISTO, Jr. (Interim Chief of Public Safety, Syracuse University): Well thank you. It's good to be here.

ROBERTS: So Mr. Callisto, under what circumstances do campus police respond with a gun at Syracuse?

Mr. CALLISTO, Jr.: Well, the campus public safety officers here at Syracuse University are New York state-certified peace officers under New York state law, and they have law-enforcement status and law-enforcement authority on all the campus properties, on all the adjoining city streets and the city streets that interlink and connect the university.

In the event of any kind of a crime, our officers are able to respond just as any police officer in the greater community would be able to and deal with that particular problem. So they're armed while they're on duty, on patrol, and they're prepared to deal with whatever circumstances might confront them as a first-responding officer.

ROBERTS: And in the sort of continuum of safety on different campuses based on location and size and all that, how dangerous do you think Syracuse is?

Mr. CALLISTO, Jr.: Well, Syracuse is a very safe city. It's a medium-sized city in national scale. The university is in the safest part of the city, but you know, we're confronted with crimes that occur on an annual basis here just like any other urban setting.

ROBERTS: What sort of crimes are you talking about?

Mr. CALLISTO, Jr.: Well, we've had students that are the victims of robberies, either strong-arm robberies or robberies with weapons. We've had students that have been the victim of sexual assaults. As a matter of fact, we had a rape incident that occurred just at the beginning, just before semester started, one block off the campus. A student was walking to her car, and a stranger-abduction rape occurred, where this person dragged her into a garage and raped her.

This was a person that had been out of state prison for one day. Now, this is an anomaly. It's not a normal occurrence on the campus, but one occurrence like that really sends a shockwave through a campus community.

ROBERTS: Do you think your officers could do their job just as effectively without guns?

Mr. CALLISTO, Jr.: Well, the Syracuse University Department of Public Safety was unarmed for several years, and it was in 2004 when the state passed legislation that granted peace-officer status to the officers and required specific training, police academy training, to prepare the officers to work as armed law-enforcement officers.

So it's relatively new here, and the difference is that our officers are now able to respond to any kind of a complaint as a first-responding officer, where in the past, prior to being armed, depending on what kind of call was called into the public safety department, they would have to call 911 and ask the police department to respond first, and they would then assist only from a perimeter perspective. Now, they can be first responders, and the police department can respond concurrently.

ROBERTS: And what led you to change that policy? Why did you decide that the police officers were more effective if they could be first responders?

Mr. CALLISTO, Jr.: Well, this was an evolution. Back in the '80s, the public safety department was a security force. By the early '90s, there was some legislation that granted some limited law-enforcement authority. It was called Enhanced Powers Act under New York state education law. And then as the next decade finished, it was clear that there are incidents that occur where an armed, trained law-enforcement officer would be very affective in dealing with it, and the university made that decision in early 2003 to pursue peace officer status, and the legislation was passed in 2004.

ROBERTS: One state where campus police do not carry guns is Iowa. Gary Steinke is the executive director of the Iowa Board of Regents. He joins us from his office in Des Moines. Welcome.

Mr. GARY STEINKE (Executive Director, Iowa Board of Regents): Thank you.

ROBERTS: So what does the University of Iowa, and it's also Iowa State and University of Northern Iowa, right?

Mr. STEINKE: That's correct.

ROBERTS: What is the policy on guns for campus police officers?

Mr. STEINKE: The policy in Iowa is a regents' policy. The regents in this system govern the institutions and their policies, and the regents' policy is this and has been for many, many years - that campus police on the three university campuses are unarmed. They currently, I believe, carry stun guns and pepper spray but not firearms.

In the case of an emergency on any one of the three campuses, the regents have authorized the presidents of those universities to, in situations that are emergency situations as dictated by the presidents, campus security people can be armed, and for that specific emergency or for that specific reason that the president feels a need to have armed security people.

ROBERTS: Now, there was an effort in the Iowa State Senate last week to require campus police to carry guns. That was defeated, but is the board of regents considering changing the regents' policy?

Mr. STEINKE: Well, the regents are considering, in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy - the regents are in the process of reviewing all of the protocols, processes, procedures, policies relating to a tragedy like what occurred at Virginia Tech. And this issue will probably be among those that are considered.

There are, you know, lots of other issues to consider: communications technology, whatever other types of technology might be available, protocols for locking-down buildings and campuses. Those policies should all be addressed at one point or another, and the regents are waiting to get all of the information from Virginia Tech, and waiting to do really a thoughtful analysis of all of those things which the university will lead before they come to any conclusions about any sorts of policy changes.

ROBERTS: And we should say for the point of clarification, that the Virginia Tech security officers were armed.

Mr. STEINKE: Yes, that's my understanding.

ROBERTS: Let's take a call from Dennis in Jacksonville, Florida. Dennis, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

DENNIS (Caller): Yes, hello.

ROBERTS: Hello.

DENNIS: Hi, hi, yes. I believe that the police should be armed on campuses, and also I don't believe that the students should be. You know, you're dealing with a situation that has to be handled in a professional manner, and I just don't think that students are capable of doing that. And also you may be putting the guns in the hands of somebody, you know, just like the person that we just had unless you're going to do a psychological profile on every student and know who those students are coming in.

But what I do feel is that the - you should have armed officers and also take advantage of the faculty. You have, you know, faculty people, and they're professional people. Some would probably be willing to go through the courses, do what's necessary and then place the weapons on campus in a locked area so that when you have a situation such as we had at Virginia Tech, you have more people accessible to getting arms that's, you know, capable and well-trained to use them, you know, until the police arrive. But I totally do not agree with having the students carry guns.

ROBERTS: Dennis, thanks for your call. So Dennis says campus security yes, students no and professors maybe. Anthony Callisto, what's the policy on students having guns at Syracuse.

Mr. CALLISTO: Well the policy here in Syracuse is no weapons on campus with the exception of the campus law enforcement officers. The reason for that is almost obvious. You know, the caller outlined some concerns. You don't know who might actually have a weapon if that's the case. But here in New York the gun laws are very strict. Only state residents can get a permit for a weapon, and it typically takes at least 60, usually 120 days to get a permit to carry a weapon.

And it's a very restrictive process here in New York. As a matter of fact, in New York City there are no carry permits that are allowed for citizens.

ROBERT: Let's take a call from Cody(ph) in Arizona. Cody, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

CODY (Caller): Yes ma'am, thank you for having me. I am a college student who has had a CCW and a CHL for…

ROBERTS: You need to tell us those acronyms, Cody.

CODY: Okay, CCW is concealed carry of a weapon, which is one of Arizona has. And CHL is concealed and handgun license, which is what Texas has. And so both are reciprocal with each other, and I carry licenses from both since I moved from Texas to Arizona. And I've been carrying concealed for five years. Nothing has ever happened. Two different people that tried having fights with me over the span of that five years, you just walk away from. And that's what most of the training in the CCW and CHL classes is about is simply walking away.

ROBERTS: And Cody, do you bring a gun to class?

CODY: No, I'm not allowed to. That's the ironic part. I've been - I can carry anywhere all across town except for campus. In fact, I'm pulling on campus right now, where I have to lock it in my car and then just be a fish sitting in a barrel if somebody like Cho came running in.

ROBERTS: So you feel that if the Virginia Tech students were allowed to carry guns the destruction there might have been minimized?

CODY: I feel that it would probably be a result similar to the Virginia Appalachian Law School from January 16, 2002, where two armed students took out the guy that was sitting there killing teachers.

ROBERTS: Cody, thank you for your call. Anthony Callisto, do you see any merit to his point, that perhaps if students were armed more people would have an opportunity to control someone like Seung-Hui Cho?

Mr. CALLISTO: Well my concern with students being armed is that the officers that work at these universities and police departments around the country today, in light of what occurred in Columbine, have had an entirely new training related to active shooter incidences. And that training is done on a pretty regular basis. All of our officers receive it in the academy. And then there's in-service training associated with it. All told, there's probably about 120 to 140 hours of additional training required to deal with active shooter type scenarios.

And it's not likely that most people who have civilian weapons have been trained in that way so there's an additional danger posed when untrained people have firearms, even if it's legitimately.

ROBERTS: We're talking about guns on campus. Should schools allow armed students in class or ban guns entirely? Give us a call at 800-989-TALK or e-mail, talk@npr.org. I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. Neal Conan is away. Last week's shooting at Virginia Tech renewed the debate over guns on campus. Many state schools prevent students from carrying weapons and in some, including Iowa, even the campus police are not armed. My guests are Anthony Callisto Jr., Interim Chief of Public Safety at Syracuse University. Also Gary Steinke, Executive Director of the Iowa Board of Regents. And of course you're invited to join us. Should students be armed? What about campus police?

Give us a call at 800-989-TALK or e-mail at talk@npr.org. You can also take part in the conversation at our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation. Gary Steinke, have you been hearing from students who would like to change the gun policy, either to have armed campus security or to be able to carry guns themselves?

Mr. STEINKE: No students have contacted us directly. We have seen in the newspaper a few students who would support, or who have said that they would support, campus police carrying weapons, but there's not been an outcry from students, at least not to my office or to the regents.

ROBERTS: Let's take a call from Laura(ph) in Blacksburg, Virginia. Laura, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

LAURA (Caller): Hi, thank you for taking my call.

ROBERTS: Sure. Are you a Virginia Tech student, Laura?

LAURA: Yes I am.

ROBERTS: And how is your first day back at class?

LAURA: Well, I haven't actually gotten to my first class yet. It starts in a little bit here. I don't have early classes on Mondays.

ROBERTS: What's the mood on campus there?

LAURA: There's a lot less people than normally are here and everybody's very subdued. It's been the same way all week. A lot of people have left school for the whole semester now, so.

ROBERTS: And what do you think about this debate about guns on campus?

LAURA: I would like our police to continue to be able to carry guns, but I definitely do not believe that students carrying weapons to class is any part of any solution to this problem. I will stop going to school if that becomes allowed.

ROBERTS: So you don't think that if someone in one of the classrooms that Mr. Cho shot up had a weapon that that would have made a difference?

LAURA: Maybe in this one circumstance it could've, but it probably, in my opinion, would lead to quite a bit more shootings occurring on campus because somebody gets upset about something, freaks out and shoots their class up.

ROBERTS: Well Laura, thank you so much for your call and best of luck on the rest of the semester.

LAURA: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Thank you. Anthony Callisto, have you heard from students at Syracuse who want to change the policy at all?

Mr. CALLISTO: No we haven't. Actually, we haven't heard from anybody on or around campus that has an interest in carrying firearms relative to this incident.

ROBERTS: Not from professors either?

Mr. CALLISTO: No we haven't.

ROBERTS: And Gary Steinke, what about campus security at the Iowa campuses? Do you think they would prefer to be armed with something other than tasers?

Mr. STEINKE: Yes I do. They have - this issue has come up periodically over the years, and campus police have always been strong proponents of carrying weapons. I might add that the campus police at the three universities in the state of Iowa are also trained with the same training that police officers and state troopers get through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. And so I just wanted to make that point because if and when the presidents authorize weapons to be carried for whatever purpose it might be, these are trained individuals who know how to use weapons and have been trained in their use.

ROBERTS: Let's take a call from David in Boston. David, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

DAVID: Hello, I'm a firearms instructor. I teach the course which is required in Massachusetts to carry a handgun as a civilian. And in my experience, just a simple quick course is not usually enough for someone like a student who's busy with other schoolwork to be adequately versed in what's required in responding to a situation like the situation of Virginia Tech. But professors who have the inclination and the desire, they should be allowed to carry handguns if they choose to and campus police should obviously be armed at all times, not simply when an emergency arises. Because if you're not carrying the gun on a daily basis then all of a sudden here, now you have to be armed, there's - you're getting used to it all over again and that can cause more accidents than it'd be helpful, especially if it is a sudden emergency situation.

ROBERTS: So it requires, sort of, more extensive than average training to be able to respond to a situation like Virginia Tech?

DAVID: Yes. It's not simply here's a gun, go deal with the shooter. You've got to - you've got to have training and you've got to have familiarity with your firearm to be able to use it adequately and safely.

ROBERTS: David, thanks for your call. Joining us now is Bruce Thornton. He's a professor of classics at California State University Fresno and a contributor for californiarepublic.org. Bruce Thornton, welcome.

Mr. BRUCE THORNTON (Professor of Classics at California State University Fresno): Thank you.

ROBERTS: You've been an advocate for gun rights, but you're also a college professor. You campus has a no-weapon policy. Do you think students or your colleagues at Cal State Fresno should be allowed to carry guns?

Mr. THORNTON: Well I think anybody who has a concealed weapon permit and has gone through whatever training, you know, required for that, should be able to carry it wherever. I don't understand the specific prohibition about college campuses. I suspect it may have been a kind of hysterical response to, you know, this very untypical campus shootings, but I don't see the difference between barring college campuses and barring shopping malls.

ROBERTS: So you wouldn't mind having students in your lecture hall armed?

Mr. THORNTON: Oh, if they have - I mean, the assumption here is your caller just, I think, wisely pointed out. The assumption is that if they have the adequate, sort of, training, they've gone through background checks and they have a concealed weapon permit, no, I wouldn't have a problem with that. I'm not sure, you know, how many of these school shootings have been perpetrated by people with concealed weapons permits. So I don't see why that would pose any sort of danger.

ROBERTS: Do you think, just from your own sort of sense of the culture on campus - do you think that restrictions on carrying weapons make people feel safer or less safe?

Mr. THORNTON: I would bet that most of my students don't even know that such a restriction exists, and I would guess that most of them would be surprised to know that their campus police force isn't allowed to carry weapons. I didn't know that because I have only seen them driving around in cars. So that came as a surprise to me and I'm kind of disturbed by finding that out. But I don't think it would make a difference to them one way or another.

ROBERTS: Do you have a gun?

Mr. THORNTON: Do I - not a handgun, no.

ROBERTS: So you've never been in a situation like our earlier caller who when he gets on to campus has to lock his gun in his glove compartment?

Mr. THORNTON: No, no I don't have a concealed weapon permit and don't own a handgun. I own other kinds of guns and I fire them on, you know, at the range, but I don't own one.

ROBERTS: Do you think Cal State is going to reconsider their policies based on the Virginia Tech shootings?

Mr. THORNTON: No, I imagine that most places are going to go in the other extreme. I may be wrong, but it seems to me though that this whole issue is so dramatic and so emotional and tends to elicit the sorts of irrational responses that for some reason guns also elicit in people, which is - which is the burden of a column I wrote is, you know, hysteria is usually a bad basis for passing legislation. And hysteria generated by untypical events that are low orders of probability I think are even worse.

ROBERTS: Bruce Thornton is a professor of classics at Cal State University Fresno and a contributor for californiarepublic.org. He's been talking to use from his office in Fresno. Thank you, Bruce.

Mr. THORNTON: Thank you.

ROBERTS: And also still with me is Gary Steinke and Anthony Callisto Jr. And let's take a call. This is Greg(ph) in Des Moines, Iowa. Greg, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

GREG (Caller): Hi, how are you?

ROBERTS: Good, how are you?

GREG: Very good. My comment is, I'm a certified peace officer in Iowa. I'm a cop here in town. And you know, all of our Iowan cops in the colleges are all state-certified peace officers. Every one of them has been through the academy. Every one of them has the exact same training. They're expected to do all these traffic stops, high - very dangerous things, but they are not given the tools to do the job. And a taser, a stun-gun or whatever you prefer to call it, and pepper spray is not going to handle any situation like what happened in Virginia Tech. There is no difference between what those cops are able to do than just any student or professor who's sitting there. Their hands are tied.

And if you're not going to arm and you're not going to give these people the tools to do their job, then there's really no purpose in having them.

ROBERTS: And Greg, have you ever been called to a campus to help out with the campus security?

GREG: Yes. Yeah, not in active shooter situations, but fights and violent students, things like that, yes.

ROBERTS: And do you feel campus security would be more effective if they didn't have to rely on you?

GREG: Oh without a doubt. I mean, there is no reason that they need to rely on us. They are the exact same as us. There's no difference. We've been to the exact same training. The only difference is we carry firearms and they don't. And you are there just tying their hands and the - it's a political decision that the board of regents has made, and it's one that is going to come back eventually to bite them. And they're really just tying the hands of their peace officers.

ROBERTS: Greg, thanks for your call. Gary Steinke, how do you respond to Greg?

Mr. STEINKE: Well, you know, I mean, this is a very emotional issue at this point, and everyone has an opinion. But, I mean, there are a couple of issues. You know, the first is that firearms do exist on the campuses, and the campus police can be armed when special or emergency circumstances exist. And those weapons are available for their use when the president determines that that situation exists.

Secondly, I would say that one of the things that I think everybody across the country just needs to step back and take a deep breath and understand that arming campus police officers isn't a panacea. It doesn't mean that a tragedy like that occurred at Virginia Tech or a tragedy that occurred at the University of Iowa in 1991 won't happen. This is about responses, about policies and procedures and protocols. And, you know, how do you improve upon those? It really isn't about prevention.

ROBERTS: Let's take a call from Karen in Kentucky. Karen, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

KAREN (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

ROBERTS: Sure.

KAREN: My comment is this. I'm a four-time combat veteran. When I went to college, of course, it was in between wars. My husband is a police officer locally. And the one thing that really comes to mind is that even though, you know, the law enforcement was there, they were there too late.

ROBERTS: You mean at Virginia Tech.

KAREN: Absolutely. And what has to happen in an instance such as that is that you have to have people there that have the training and the wherewithal to remove an active shooter to neutralize a threat like that. I think that if the university and local law enforcement - university police and local law enforcement wanted to work together and train those students that were interested and that could pass a background check and everything like that in carrying a weapon to class, in order to be that - I guess, immediate emergency response.

I think that it could be done. And I think that it could be very successful. The fact that - you know, if someone's going to go and he commits a criminal act, they're going to do it regardless. But it may give someone pause if they know that there are going to be people in class who are armed. There are going to be people in class who are trained to eliminate threat like that. And I really think that it could be done interactively, efficiently and safely.

ROBERTS: Thanks for your call.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Anthony Callisto, what about that idea? Using campus security or local police to train some students or professors to be inside and armed and trained?

Mr. CALLISTO: Well, you know, I'd be a bit concerned about that. The campus peace officers here at our university attend police academy training and field training that lasts literally a thousand hours - maybe a little bit more. Then they go on to field training and work with seasoned officers to learn the trade. This is not a topic where you could train somebody very quickly to be able to go in and remove an active shooter.

As a matter of fact, I'd be more concerned that if there were students with firearms on them and police were responding to an active shooter incident and that student had a firearm out, they can be perceived as a threat. And they could be in danger. It is a difficult issue to try to have students with firearms at any point in time in a college campus.

ROBERTS: And Gary Steinke, do you know, is the university allowed to provide background information on a student if they are applying for a gun permit?

Mr. STEINKE: No. The university is extremely limited as to the types and amount of information they can release on students. There's a federal law that we refer to as FERPA, which is very restrictive in giving information out about students.

ROBERTS: I think we have time for one more call. This is Bruce in Des Moines. Bruce, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

BRUCE (Caller): Well, thank you. I'm a graduate of Iowa State University. My sons are attending there now. And I would feel much happier if he was allowed to carry a concealed weapon should he choose to do so. You know, I think - you know, people raise comments about maturity of college students, about training. Those are all issues that can be dealt with, and the idea that a complete prohibition is necessary is a false one.

ROBERTS: So you feel that more guns is actually safer than a gun ban.

BRUCE: Absolutely. If you look at the Virginia Tech Web site, their security department, they show pictures of people training with machine guns. You know, that did no good. I mean, not only were they armed with handguns, they had machineguns and riot guns and whatever else available to them. It's necessary for people to take responsibility for their own safety. The state won't do it for you.

ROBERTS: Bruce, thanks for your call. Gary Steinke, do you have response for Bruce?

Mr. STEINKE: No, I don't. I believe that there's a lot of emotion around this issue. And I think that careful, thoughtful analysis along with the facts of what happened, really what happened in a thorough kind of way at Virginia Tech and what lessons can be learned from that experience, what improvements can be made - I think that's the most rational approach to the issue so that decisions aren't made in a knee-jerk way, or in the heat of emotion. And that's what the regents, I think, will do.

ROBERTS: And when are the regents meeting next?

Mr. STEINKE: The regents are meeting again on May 1st.

ROBERTS: And I expect this issue will come up.

Mr. STEINKE: Yes, it will.

ROBERTS: Gary Steinke is executive director of the Iowa Board of Regents. He's been talking to us from his office in Des Moines. Thanks so much.

Mr. STEINKE: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Also here has been Anthony Callisto, Jr., the interim chief of public safety at Syracuse University. He joined us today from the WAER studios in Syracuse, New York. Thank you so much.

Mr. CALLISTO: You're very welcome.

ROBERTS: When we come back from a short break, it's the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. And Edward Taehan Chang confronts a shared sense of responsibility among many Korean-Americans for the shooting of Virginia Tech. If you're part of an ethnic community, if you ever confronted or shared sense of collective guilt or responsibility, our number is 800-989-TALK, or e-mail talk@npr.org.

I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.