Photo by Alexandria Sands.

With the recent Parkland shooting, debate over the minimum age to buy AR-15s and even a UNC Charlotte shooting threat, people are questioning the safety of our nation’s schools. Many point toward our federal gun laws as a contributor to so much violence. So, what are UNC Charlotte’s rules about firearms? What action is your own school taking to protect your rights and keep you safe?

It might not shock you to learn that no one — except for police officers — is allowed to carry a firearm on campus. What may surprise you, however, is that according to university policy you can store a gun in your car.

There are some conditions, of course. You must have a concealed handgun permit, known in North Carolina as a CWP. In addition, the firearm must be stored inside a locked box within the vehicle. A locked glove compartment does not suffice. It is a felony to improperly store a gun in your car (i.e. to not lock it up). The statute was established by the General Assembly for all UNC campuses and confirmed by Chancellor Philip L. Dubois in 2013.

All other firearms policies are in accordance with the state. It is a class I felony to carry any firearm, concealed or open, on educational property and a class I misdemeanor to carry any BB gun, stun gun, air rifle or air pistol. Even if you have a permit, it is a felony to carry in places where guns are prohibited, like UNC campuses or certain stores. Sworn police officers may carry a gun anywhere in the state of North Carolina – including college campuses – but they can only carry out their duties as police officers within their jurisdictions.

So how effective are these laws? UNC Charlotte Chief of Police Jeff Baker thinks they promote a safe environment on campus. Since he started working here in 2009, he has never experienced any gun violence or dealt with any students violating the firearms policy. However, people unaffiliated with the university who cut through campus have been caught with assault rifles in their vehicle. In his nine years at Charlotte, he says, he has only seen about nine cases dealing with firearms.

In March, a UNC Charlotte student was committed to a hospital and then arrested after threatening to “buy a gun and shoot the university up.” Police officers seized blueprints, composition books and posters from the student, but did not recover any guns. The student has since been released from jail and spotted at other campuses, including an elementary school in Carroll County, Virginia.

The threat of school shootings has stirred the whole country. On March 24, Charlotte residents joined the millions of people across the United States marching for stricter gun control. The rally was organized by students and attended by Sandy Hook survivors Criss and Ella Berke.

What do students think of our firearms policies? UNC Charlotte College Republicans Chair Keith Maples envisions different regulations for UNC Charlotte. “I think we should have concealed carry with extreme exceptions,” he said. “There needs to be tough vetting. There needs to be mental and psychological exams. We should only allow pistols. All you need to stop an intruder is a pistol. They should be allowed everywhere on campus including dorms, but students should report their weapons to officials, including professors.”

UNC Charlotte College Democrats Treasurer Bryan McCollom takes a different stance: “I think the gun safety laws in regards to college campuses are suitable as is,” he said. “[The College Democrats] would be against anything that weakens these restrictions.”

The safety of our campus is contingent on more than just gun restrictions. Blue light phones, for example, are an important part of our safety network. According to Baker, it takes 10 to 15 seconds for a police officer to show up to the site of a blue light activation. UNC Charlotte also offers the LiveSafe App, which allows students to call and text police officers, use GPS services to locate nearest buildings and utilize a location service that allows selected contacts in your phone to temporarily track your movements while you walk to your destination.

Both Maples and McCollom believe that too many students are unaware of our firearms policies. While no student wants to memorize the Code of Conduct or sift through the Information Technology Policy, it is prudent that students know about the policies that affect their own safety.

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