Carol Biliczky

Matthew Mansell looks forward to the day when he can take not only his books and notebooks but also his gun to his University of Akron classes.

Mansell, a 19-year-old engineering student from southwestern Ohio, aims to launch the seventh Ohio chapter of Students for Concealed Carry and eventually abolish the UA rule forbidding firearms on campus.

It is part of a growing movement of firearms advocates who believe that campuses would be safer if licensed shooters packed heat.

“There’s no difference between a college campus and a shopping mall or a state park,” where concealed carry is permitted, said Michael Newbern, a 30-something Ohio State junior who is president of the state organization. “We don’t want to change who can carry a firearm or what firearms they can carry — just where they carry them.”

The national Students for Concealed Carry was formed after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 with a single goal: to legalize concealed carry for permit holders on college campuses.

Today the group says it has more than 36,000 members in 350-plus chapters nationwide. In Ohio, the list of schools includes Ohio State, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Dayton and Case Western Reserve universities and Lakeland Community College.

A handful of states allow concealed carry on college campuses, and Newbern points to their track records as evidence of why a similar law would be successful in Ohio.

“None of these campuses has experienced a single incident of gun violence [including threats and suicides], a single gun accident injuring innocent people or a single gun theft as a result,” at the hands of licensees, Newbern said. “We follow all the rules.”

Newbern said two Ohio legislators have approached the state organization about introducing a bill by this summer to permit concealed carry on campuses. He declined to give their names until the legislation jells.

At UA, Mansell’s fledgling group already has about 25 interested students. He expects more once word of the organization spreads.

He said the group would work to change the Ohio law and would take part in the national organization’s signature event — a weeklong protest in April in which members wear holsters, but no guns, around campus.

But there appears to be no shortage of resistance to changing Ohio’s concealed-carry law for college campuses.

“I don’t think it’s conducive to a proper learning environment,” UA police Chief Paul Callahan said. “It creates a lot more danger for people responding to the scene. Which one is the bad guy and which one is the good guy?”

Nor does there appear to be faculty interest in broadening campus gun laws.

A University of Toledo survey of 791 randomly selected faculty in Ohio and four other states last year found that 97 percent of faculty at Kent State and 14 other state universities felt safe on their campuses and 94 percent didn’t want a change to allow concealed carry on campus.

Chris Banks, an associate professor of political science at Kent State, predicted that it would be difficult to change the state law. He said he would be against doing so, partly because of the deaths of four students in 1970 at the hands of trained National Guardsmen.

“I have a hard time that anyone would have a gun anywhere in the public space,” he said.

Newbern, the state president, said he has approached OSU President Gordon Gee about allowing concealed carry on the Columbus campus. But, like the faculty in the survey, Gee “got it wrong.”

Universities “teach us to develop a hypothesis, gather data, test it, but they ignore that and revert back to emotion,” Newbern said. “When you look at stuff rationally and apply logic to the facts, you conclude that conceal carry is a great idea.”

UA spokeswoman Eileen Korey said Mansell has yet to formally register his group on campus.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.