Concealed carry at campus daycare?

Pending legislation to allow for conceal permit holders to carry firearms at the University of Wyoming continues to worry some campus stakeholders.

House Bill 136 would allow for the lawful carrying of concealed weapons on the campus of UW and Wyoming community colleges, including at athletic events. The bill easily advanced from the House as two similar bills have in the past, though those died in the senate. Many in UW’s administration have spoken publically against the bill, including President Laurie Nichols.

UW’s Faculty Senate unanimously carried a resolution during its meeting Monday that implores state lawmakers to consider the potential consequences of allowing fire arms on campus. The resolution is nearly identical to a resolution carried in 2014 when a conceal carry on campus bill was also pending.

Professor and faculty senate secretary Donal O’Toole said the discussion during Monday’s meeting mostly focused around UW’s Early Childhood and Education Center.

“UW will lose federal funding to support the (Early Childhood and Education Center), and it will lose accreditation,” he said. “That will impact those student-teachers who use the (Early Childhood and Education Center) for training, since they will no longer use an accredited facility.”

Mark Bittner, director at the UW Early Care and Education Center, said the likely effects of the bill worry him. Because the Early Childhood and Education Center is nationally accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Bittner said it is obligated to follow state licensing regulations. He said a firearm in the school could greatly jeopardize its licensing status, as the state of Wyoming licensing regulations do not allow for weapons to be used or present in a child care facility according to Department of Family Services.

For the roughly 300 UW students annually who count on the center for practicum and internships, Bittner said it could be problematic.

“It would put that in jeopardy for all the students that come over to the center every day,” he said. “That’s one of our purposes — our staff are trained to be able to support interns as they come in.”

Bittner — who has been with the Early Childhood and Education Center since 1991 — said around 90 percent of the 89 children at the facility this semester are those of UW faculty and staff. The youngest children are 3 months old, with the oldest being 6th grade-aged students in the after school program. Beyond the accreditation concerns, he said he’s concerned about safety.

“I think when parents bring their children here, they’re entrusting us to make sure children are well taken care of and safe — that’s our main job,” Bittner said.

“The idea of the potential for someone having a weapon in the facility — even for good intent — I know puts a lot of parents at unease.”

The risk of a firearm accidentally discharging and striking someone is a possibility Bittner would like to avoid, he said.

“As we often see in the news, it happens frequently in situations where weapons are present,” Bittner writes in a statement to the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming. “And we would not have the ability to monitor any weapons brought in or have time to check the safety of the weapon.”

The bill’s proponents argue having permitted concealed carriers of firearms on campus would increase safety as they could potentially stop anyone intending to use weapons to cause harm to people on campus. Bittner said he doesn’t buy it.

“First of all, in terms of safety, it’s clear that not only do I feel like we’re safe over here — we have a secured entrance where people can only get in with an access card — but with conceal carry, it would be an assumption there’s someone armed at all times in the facility,” he said. “So, that means we’d have to have someone over here all the time to make sure that’s a preventable measure. I don’t think that’s going to happen. … I think there are some misconceptions about how easy it would be to thwart a shooter in the school.”

Beyond the concerns of the Early Childhood Development Center, O’Toole said there were concerns about guns used in suicides at UW. In addition, O’Toole said he thinks allowing conceal carry on campus “changes the tenor.” Controversial topics in classrooms, as well as stress related to the pressures of school and personal relationships could cause impulsive behavior, he said. O’Toole said he also didn’t buy the argument that UW’s current conceal carry policy “attracts shooters.”

“It is my personal opinion that the gun culture in the United States is unhealthy,” O’Toole says in an email. “Pushing guns on this campus and other campuses around the state has more to do with the American gun fetish than with personal protection. I may be wrong.”

UW Staff Senate was not as unanimous in its opinion during its meeting Wednesday, said Mark Gunnerson, Staff Senate president. There weren’t any official group motions at the meeting as Staff Senate’s system doesn’t allow it to respond quickly to resolutions, he said.

Gunnerson said senators were split and could not reach a group consensus. Some members, however, did decide to submit a letter to lawmakers on an individual basis stating they’d like to retain local control when it comes to conceal carry on campus, he said.

“There were a lot of opinions,” Gunnerson said. “There are some members sending a letter to their constituents — it was about a 50-50 split.”

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