The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms, but there are restrictions on who can posses firearms and where it is legal to carry them.
Last Tuesday at the Auburn City Council meeting, Auburn resident Donald Sirois complained that there is a discrepancy between state and city laws concerning carrying concealed weapons onto city property.
Currently, according to section 13-12 of Auburn’s city code, weapons of any kind, whether permitted or not, are banned from city property. Sirois, a member of the NRA, said the ordinance violates the state’s pre-emption law, which states, “The entire subject matter of handguns is reserved to the State Legislature.”
This means a city government cannot make a law concerning handguns that is more specific than state law, Sirois said.
Sirois said there are signs in front of certain municipal buildings, such as recreation centers and the City Council chamber.
The state code does not specify whether handguns are allowed in municipal facilities.
“The state law is not real clear and not real well-organized either, but if they feel like there’s restrictions needed in the city, they need to make sure they comply it with the state code,” Sirois said.
City Manager Charles Duggan said section 13-12 of city code, which bans weapons on municipal property, was passed in 1999.
When Sirois brought the discrepancy between the ordinance and the pre-emption law to his attention this summer, Duggan said he and other city officials immediately began researching the issue and found that the city was in violation of the pre-emption law.
“We look at it, and we say, ‘We believe we should go ahead and change section 13-12 and clarify that while we’re banning weapons, our ban is not going to apply to handguns because of the state exemption, and we will deal with handguns according to the state law,’” Duggan said.
Duggan said the city is still trying to interpret the vague state code to determine whether concealed handguns should be permitted on municipal property.
For now, Duggan has recommended the Council change the city code to ban all weapons except concealed handguns.
“The problem is, we didn’t just want to repeal it—we wanted to know what goes in its place, and that takes time,” Duggan said. “We want to make sure that, quite frankly, whatever restrictions we can put legally in place, we do because there are restrictions, or people believe there should be restrictions in courts of law, possibly the city council chamber, schools, and I believe City Hall should be gun-free. I’m not questioning people’s constitutional rights or their right to own weapons or even legally carry them on the street. It’s just a question of, ‘Do they belong in public buildings?’”
The amendment to section 13-12, with which some people may still disagree, has been submitted to the City Council, Duggan said.
“We believe that the amendment that we’ve recommended to the City Council is legal,” Duggan said. “Now whether or not the City Council ultimately wants to adopt that or do something else–that’s up to them. However, what they ultimately choose we will run by the city attorney and make sure it’s legal.”
Duggan said that ultimately, concealed weapons, whether on city property or not, should remain just that–concealed.
“If someone has a concealed weapon, we’ll probably never know—if they properly carry their weapon concealed,” Duggan said. “But if we see it, then it’s no longer concealed, and it’s illegal to have a nonconcealed weapon.”
Auburn University also bans all weapons from University property.
The University does not fall under the pre-emption law, said Melvin Owens, executive director of the Auburn University department of public safety and security.
“The code of Alabama gives the president (of the University) the authority to impose certain restrictions on University property,” Owens said.
Victoria Gulley, president of the newly formed organization Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said her organization thinks it is unfair and unsafe for the University to prohibit people with concealed carry permits from bringing their handguns to campus.
“These are students who are carrying concealed weapons when they go to Walmart, when the go to a movie theater and pretty much everywhere else they go, but they’re not allowed to on campus,” Gulley said. “We just think it’s a safety issue.”
Gulley said people who have concealed carry permits carry handguns to protect themselves and others from criminals.
“A firearm is 60 times more likely to be used to save a life than to take one, and they are very effective means of self-protection, so not being able to carry one on campus just makes us very vulnerable,” Gulley said.
Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is a national organization that was founded after the Virginia Tech shootings.
“Several of the people that were killed there were trained military people that were in ROTC or had concealed weapons or something of that nature, but they didn’t have them with them because they were on campus,” Gulley said. “That just really brought to light the need for some sort of protection other than just sitting behind a desk.”
Owens said the Department of Public Safety and Security would prefer to leave crime prevention and intervention to professional law enforcement officers.
If a bystander becomes a participant by using a firearm to try to stop an active shooter, and the police arrive after both parties have pulled out weapons, the officer would not know which person was the shooter and which person was the bystander, Owens said.
“So there’s the probability of someone being hurt,” Owens said. “Overall, the position of law enforcement in general across the nation, from all the communication that I’ve received, is that they would rather leave those sort of things (preventing and reacting to violent crimes) to people who view that as a profession rather than casual handlers of weapons,” Owens said.
Owens said the prevalence of alcohol consumption in combination with firearms among college students is also a concern.