ABy Joseph Swartz
s violent crime has increased on and near campus, some students have re-examined their ability to resist physical attack. In this vein, the University’s ban on carrying licensed, concealed weapons on campus has also been questioned. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a gun owner in favor of lifting the ban. However, my purpose here is not to advocate lifting the ban, but to encourage and inform the debate.
To begin with, we need to clarify what the discussion is about. It’s not about giving students firearms or letting anyone bring a firearm to campus. It’s about letting holders of a valid permit to carry a pistol carry concealed weapons on campus in accordance with the law. In 2005, Minnesota passed the Minnesota Citizens’ Personal Protection Act. (See Minn. Stat. 624.714 for the full text of the act.) The act changed Minnesota’s existing concealed carry permit system from a “may issue” system that allowed a sheriff, at his or her discretion, to issue concealed carry permits, to a “shall issue” system that required a sheriff to issue a permit to any applicant who met the statutory guidelines. The guidelines require an applicant to be 21 years old, to be a citizen or permanent resident, to have completed a pistol safety training course, to be eligible to own a firearm under federal and state law and to not be associated with a gang.
While these legal requirements sound minimal, getting the permit in reality is more difficult. To begin with, you have to get a pistol. In order to buy a pistol in Minnesota, you have to do one of two things. On the one hand, you could find someone who owns a pistol and contract a private sale. Private sales are unregulated, so there is no need for a background check or a waiting period. Private sales, though, are hard to track down and don’t necessarily save you any money. As such, most people purchase their handguns, used or new, in a store. In order to purchase a pistol in a gun or pawn shop, you first have to apply for your permit to purchase a pistol. The application requires a background check that’s easily held up. When I applied for my permit to purchase a pistol, I was initially denied because a police report filed when I reported my car broken into transposed two of the numbers in my address. To pass the background check, I had to go down to city hall, meet with the inspector, and provide proof of residence and identity.
Even if you get your permit to purchase, guns aren’t cheap. If you’re purchasing a gun to conceal it, it’s even more expensive. The cheaper a gun is the bigger and harder it is to conceal. I spent about $520 on mine, a .40 Smith & Wesson, Springfield semi-automatic. After getting the pistol, you have to familiarize yourself with the gun and learn to shoot decently. With a $15 to $20 firing range fee, $15 to $20 per 100 rounds of ammunition and a few dollars for targets, the costs of becoming skilled with your weapon are significant.
After someone has paid the costs to purchase and familiarize themselves with their weapon, they then have to pay an average of $130 to $150 for a concealed carry certification course. The Minnesota Citizens’ Personal Protection Act requires an eligible course to teach handgun safety, incorporate a proficiency test, and teach basic legal duties and considerations, among other things. In addition, almost every concealed carry course teaches situational awareness and de-escalation of conflict. Even after buying the gun, practicing with it, and taking the course, you still have to submit the application and $100 fee to the sheriff. You’ll wait about 30 days, assuming there are no problems.
Once you receive a permit to carry a pistol, there are a number of legal duties that come with carrying a gun. First and foremost, you have the legal duty not to use, brandish, or even threaten use of your weapon unless you are in a situation that justifies the use or threat of lethal force. If a permit holder pulls their weapon without just cause, the permit will be canceled and the gun forfeited. Also, if at any time the permit holder becomes ineligible to own a handgun, the permit to carry is rendered void.
The Minnesota Citizens’ Personal Protection Act also creates a new crime, carrying under the influence. The exact nature of and penalties for carrying under the influence can be found in Minn. Stat. 624.7142 and Minn. Stat. 624.7143, respectively. When you are carrying your pistol, you can’t be under the influence of mind-altering drugs. If you do so and are caught, your permit is void and your weapon forfeited. Similarly, there are penalties for carrying a concealed weapon with a blood alcohol contents of more than .04 and .10.
So what is my point in explaining all this? To begin with, let’s drop the hysteria. Any time somebody brings up handguns, people freak out. While some critics bemoaned the passage of the Minnesota Citizens’ Personal Protection Act, it actually made the permitting process safer because it took away agency discretion and replaced it with clear licensing standards and permit holder duties. A vast majority of permit holders, therefore, not only made a conscious, informed decision to attain their permits, but they have practiced and accustomed themselves to the naturally greater degree of responsibility that comes with carrying a weapon. The number of people carrying guns will not explode on campus. Besides the fact that more than half of the students on campus would be ineligible to carry because of age, most students won’t have the financial resources to get their permit. Even those students who do just may not be interested in carrying a gun.
This doesn’t have to be an issue that people freak out about. Guns are real, people use them, and they are a viable form of personal protection when put in the hands of people who are duly trained permit holders. Whether or not the University should continue the weapons ban is certainly up for debate, especially in light of recent circumstances. Fear-mongering and bromides about the “culture” of the University don’t go far enough in addressing a real and serious issue and certainly don’t do much for student safety.
Joseph Swartz is a University law student. Please send comments to [email protected]