College Board Grapples with Concealed Carry Options

College Board Grapples with Concealed Carry Options

ROCK SPRINGS – in the wake of House Bill 125, Western Wyoming Community College’s Board of Trustees are considering the college’s options when it comes to allowing concealed carry of firearms on the college campus.

House Bill 125 repealed gun-free zones and despite being passed by the legislature, was later vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon. Buckey Walters, the assistant professor of criminal justice at Western and the Vice President of Administration Burt Reynolds spoke to the board Thursday evening about the options available to the college, as well as some of the considerations the group would need to weigh while determining its course of action. The college has three options available to it: leaving the policy as is and only allow law enforcement to carry firearms within the college, expanding the policy to allow retired law enforcement to carry concealed weapons on college property, or create a policy that would allow people with a Wyoming Concealed Carry Permit to concealed carry firearms on campus grounds.

Even with the option to keep the policy as it is, the college faces challenges in the event of a mass shooting. Walters, who has worked as the director of public safety at other community colleges, said the response time for the RSPD between receiving a call and arriving on campus is three minutes, saying anywhere between 18 and 30 people on campus could be killed within that time frame. The minutes after law enforcement arrives and ends the shooter’s actions only give the shooter time to inflict harm. Walters said the college could be liable for the deaths resulting from an active shooter incident.

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“We’re going to be sued to high heaven and depending on the number of people killed, could leave the college bankrupt or near bankrupt,” Walters said.

Only two colleges have armed security on their campuses, Central Wyoming College and the University of Wyoming, which has its own police department.

Even if the college expands its weapons on campus policy to retired law enforcement, concerns remain as to how the college would determine how to recognize retired law enforcement, with questions being raised about whether a retired officer would show the college proof that they maintain their compliance with the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, which allows retired law enforcement officers to conceal carry nationwide.

With the option of allowing concealed carry on the college campus, other issues needing to be addressed immediately come to focus, including the problem that someone reacting to a situation with their firearm could be seen as the attacker by law enforcement. Walters said anyone who plans to carry a firearm onto campus should be required to take a course that highlights the risks of engaging with an armed assailant.

“There’s a time to engage and there’s a time to be a really good witness,” Walters said.

Board Member Jenissa Meredith highlighted another potential problem by opening the option to conceal carry to the general public — not everyone should be carrying in the first place.

“I have a concealed carry permit and I should not be carrying,” she said.

She said she would feel more comfortable if the option to conceal carry were left to trained personnel as opposed to the general public.

One of Walters’ key concerns about opening concealed carry on the campus is the mixture of alcohol and drugs with firearms at the dorms. Western maintains a dry campus, though that doesn’t stop students from sneaking alcohol or drugs into the dorms. Walters said the college may need to come up with a policy that requires students to lock their firearms into a safe on campus or in the dorms that campus security also has a key to. Tasking security to handle firearms brought in by students also highlights the demands Western’s security already has, with Walters saying the college needs at least double the security staff it has already.

For Board Member Neil Kourbelas, who was once the RSPD police chief, the possibility of an accidental discharge is worrying. Kourbelas said he’s aware of three instances where a firearm accidentally discharged within the RSPD, one of which took place in the detectives’ office and left a bullet hole in the ceiling. He believes if trained professionals like police officers can have mishaps, the probability is much higher with the general public and students.

“I see a real disaster with the dorms,” Kourbelas said.

The board recognizes that any policy won’t stop someone from illegally carrying on campus and Board President Jim Jessen believes amending the policy to reflect what House Bill 125 proposes will get complicated. Kourbelas said the board’s main responsibility in this situation is security and said it doesn’t seem that armed attackers are deterred by the threat of an armed response. Board Member Ken Lorimer, who works as a community service officer for the RSPD, said studies have shown that those wanting to attack a public building will seek out “softer targets,” but admits an armed response isn’t always a deterrent for someone planning an attack. Reynolds also said there isn’t data available showing how many armed attacks were avoided because a potential target allowed concealed carrying on the premises.

Further work with a potential update to the college concealed carry policy was sent to the college’s safety committee.