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Oklahoma lawmakers in showdown with college leaders over guns on campus

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Two Oklahoma lawmakers are pushing to have college students and faculty carrying firearms, a move they said would enhance safety on campuses but university presidents said is an unnecessary plan that could cause chaos.

The state legislators said this week they want to end a current ban on licensed firearms carriers from bringing guns to campuses.

“If there were a predator out there whose prey is young college-aged women and he wanted to assault them, where would he go to do that? He would go to a place where they are vulnerable, where they are unarmed ... and that is a college campus,” said Republican Senator Ralph Shortey, who is leading the push with Republican Representative John Enns.

The move comes after a rash of shootings at U.S. schools and universities has prompted fresh calls to supplement police and university security forces.

If gun legislation passes in Oklahoma, the state would join Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin in allowing some sort of concealed weapons on campuses.

In July, Idaho enacted a measure allowing law enforcement officers and people with enhanced concealed carry permits to bring guns on campus, over the objections of Boise State University President Bob Kustra.

Oklahoma’s two largest universities – the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University – have spoken against the measure, and other colleges are following suit.

"Placing guns on campus, except in the hands of highly trained law enforcement officers and professionals, would be a serious mistake and would lead only to tragic results," University of Oklahoma President David Boren said.

The lawmakers contend a student has a one-in-five chance of being assaulted during their time at college. But crime statistics provided by the state's universities show otherwise.

The University of Oklahoma, with about 30,000 students, said it had one aggravated assault on campus in 2010, one in 2011 and none in 2012. The U.S. Justice Department has said nationally more than 90 percent of violent crimes where college students are victims occur off campus.

Republican lawmakers are calling for studies about violence on university campuses and how to best introduce more firearms, with university leaders saying crime numbers show the study is unwarranted.

“What problem are we trying to solve?” said University of Central Oklahoma President Don Betz. "We don’t need more people on campus with guns."

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jim Loney)

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