About a week from now, concealed handguns will be allowed at Wichita State University and smoking and vaping will be banned.
July 1 is the implementation date for both of those new policies, one ordered by the Legislature and the other by university leaders.
Across the campus, you’ll find students supporting every possible permutation: Ban guns and cigarettes, don’t ban either one, or ban one but not the other.
“I think it’s kind of astounding,” said Josh Long, a WSU sophomore from Clearwater. “Something that’s been used for crime is allowed, but something that’s been like a norm for 50 to 60 years is now banned.”
He questions the necessity of either change.
“I don’t really have any issues with the way things are now,” he said.
Status quo is not an option on guns. Two years ago, the Legislature passed and Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill that opens almost all public spaces and public buildings to concealed carry, including college classrooms, offices and dormitories.
Called “constitutional carry” by its supporters, the law requires neither a permit nor training to carry a concealed weapon for people over 21, an age group that includes many college juniors and seniors.
The only places where guns can be excluded are buildings with metal detectors and guards to run them at every entrance – which university officials say is impractically expensive on campuses with dozens of buildings and hundreds of entrances.
The universities were given two years to prepare for the changes. That grace period expires on July 1.
Don’t light up
The new smoking rules deviate from a state law that allows outdoor smoking outside a 10-foot radius of public-building doors and air intakes.
The new university policy prohibits smoking outdoors on almost all university property, including the streets, sidewalks and parking lots.
There are exceptions.
The athletics department will still be able to allow sports fans to slip out of games for a smoke or vape outside the arena or ballpark.
And businesses that lease land in the public-private Innovation Campus at the eastern edge of the university will be able to allow smoking around their facilities, as long as they comply with the state smoking law.
Outdoor smoking in defiance of the policy won’t be a prosecutable offense with fines or citations.
Nor will violations count as punishable misconduct for students and employees.
Instead, users of tobacco products will get a polite scold from student and faculty members designated as ambassadors for the tobacco-free campus policy.
“Ambassadors will be trained to use scripted, courteous messages, reminding/informing students, employees and visitors that Wichita State University is a tobacco-free campus and directing them to available cessations services,” the policy says.
University spokesman Joe Kleinsasser said the thinking is that once campus patrons and visitors are informed of the policy, they’ll comply voluntarily.
Student views vary
Krishna Mohid, a student from India, said he leans toward prohibiting smoking because of possible health effects but sees students carrying concealed weapons as a much larger threat to the university.
“If two or three people smoke here or there, it will go up in the air and it’s OK,” he said.
But with guns, “It depends on the person’s mentality,” he said. “If he’s not in a good mood, he may misuse it and unnecessarily a student may lose his life.
“I don’t think it should be allowed at all to any students of any country.”
Morgen Hardy is a student doing research at WSU this summer in computer science. She’ll return to the University of Miami in the fall. She said Miami already has a no-tobacco policy, and it hasn’t caused any problems that she has seen.
“I like a nice clean air environment,” she said. “I think it’s good promoting nice healthy habits for people.”
Conner Stewart, a senior in communications, said he has mixed feelings on the smoking ban but strongly supports concealed carry on campus.
On smoking: “If you don’t want to inhale smoke, it’s a cool thing that you might not have to inhale it,” he said. “But at the same time, I do feel bad for people who do smoke, because what are they going to do? Everyone has things in their lives that can help them cope, maybe, so if you are a smoker, I think it’s unfortunate you can’t smoke anywhere.
“I’m for it (the ban), but at the same time I do wish we maybe had an area where they could smoke so they just have somewhere at least on campus.”
He said “the gun thing frankly doesn’t bother me.”
“There’s always going to be people who are going to do something stupid. I was in high school once. There’s always that kid at a party that pulls out a gun or something. And I just (say) ‘Just put that away,’ you know?
“But to me, it’s the people who are going to do horrible things aren’t going to obey the law anyway. … I think allowing students to have guns isn’t a terrible thing. Hopefully across the nation it reduces the soft-targetness of universities.”
State legislators are also split on the new policies.
Banning smoking and allowing guns “seems like an amazing dichotomy,” said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, a WSU alumnus.
He doesn’t support either policy and is especially adamant that letting guns on WSU’s campus will turn out be a bad idea.
Alone among the state’s universities, WSU is in a densely populated urban environment that struggles with gang, crime and violence issues. A lot of people walk through who aren’t part of the university community, he said.
“It doesn’t attract students to apply to our public universities when they know untrained individuals, even unknown and unidentified individuals (from off campus), are allowed to carry guns,” he said. “How would you like to be a Wichita State University Police officer?”
On smoking, he said it doesn’t make much sense to shun tobacco users while selling alcohol in university facilities. “Once people suffer from nicotinism, we need to make appropriate accommodations for their illness,” he said.
Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, said he doesn’t think campus carry will turn out to be a big deal.
He said lawmakers were provided with studies showing 180 campuses in America allow some form of campus carry, and there hasn’t been one incident of murder or suicide directly related to the policy.
He said simply declaring and labeling buildings gun-free doesn’t mean they actually are, and he thinks there are students carrying concealed weapons on campus already. He said banning guns only affects the law-abiding gun owner, “and they’re not the ones you need to worry about.”
“I think it’s a whole lot of ado about nothing,” he said of the current controversy over campus carry. “Nine months from now, people are not even going to notice. I think that’s what we’re going to find.”
He said he’s philosophically opposed to smoking bans in general but doesn’t think it will be a big deal either.
“It strikes me as being a little ‘nanny state,’ but at least it happened at the local level,” he said.