Guns on Campus

Silva, Kiernan & Associates, Pllc

Recently, a UNCW student was arrested and charged with a felony after being pulled over on campus with a gun in his vehicle. The news story did not say whether the student was on campus for a class or school business, or just driving across the campus. The story also failed to mention if the student had a concealed carry permit. NC law prohibits the carrying of weapons on campus. The penalties for this charge can be severe. However, there are exceptions in the law for Concealed Carry Permit holders. (CCP). Basically, the law allows CCP holders to cross campus with a firearm while driving. This provision makes sense as many school campuses are criss-crossed by public streets.

The comments on the news story raised several excellent questions. What about a person who is transporting a weapon legally, until they drive across a campus? A weapon transported in an “open and apparent” manner may be carried in NC unless otherwise prohibited. An otherwise legal firearm could become a felony by a simple wrong turn on the way to work.

It seems strange that the legislature would want to uphold such an arbitrary interpretation of the law. Also, it is doubtful that when the drafters of the law added the exception, they thought that an otherwise law-abiding armed citizen would become a danger to students simply by driving across their campus. It seems even more unlikely that they would have wanted this person punished as a felon.

In the UNCW story, the vehicle was stopped as part of a routine traffic stop. The student advised the officer that he had a weapon in the vehicle. A driver carrying a weapon in an “open carry” status is under no obligation to verbally tell the officer that they are armed. However, if the driver is a CCP holder and is armed, the driver is required to inform law enforcement at the earliest opportunity. Either the student was a CCP holder, or was trying to follow the law as he understood it.

As a former police officer, I was not concerned with the driver who informed me they were armed, without or without a CCP. There is very little chance of being killed by a driver who lets an officer know they are armed. I would speculate that a such a driver poses even less chance of shooting up the school. The UNCW student tried to follow the law by telling on himself. His reward was a felony charge.

The sentiments behind the law are admirable. Noone, including the most staunch gun rights advocates, wants children hurt by school shooters. This incident is a perfect example of the unintended consequences of gun laws. An otherwise law abiding citizen is facing a life changing conviction for driving on the wrong street.