Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding HB 334

Senate Judiciary Committee HB 334
26 January 2012
State House Room 100

 Testimony by Sara Jayne Steen
President, Plymouth State University

Today I speak on behalf of the University System of New Hampshire’s institutions in opposition to HB 334. Recently two individuals wanted to protest University System of New Hampshire policy against weapons by carrying loaded slung rifles on the Plymouth State campus. Through the web, they invited others to join them, armed. A few dozen supporters came, as far as we know unarmed because of a court order.

Our campuses take safety seriously. And there are important reasons not to have guns on campus beyond those carried by trained police. Tragic accidents. Anxiety, stress, or depression leading to impulsive actions that, with a readily available lethal weapon, result in suicide and violence that otherwise would never have occurred, destroying families. Hundreds of students under one roof, with attendant pressures. In a crisis, confusion for police. And damage to a learning environment in which students are encouraged to explore ideas and engage in debate of varied opinions, without intimidation.

PSU is the home of students, and a place of learning. We have 7500 undergraduate and graduate students, wonderful faculty who promote academic excellence, a beautiful campus, and a community committed to mutually respectful dialogue.

And in December I heard from hundreds of people in response to the violation of our weapons policy and this proposed legislation, overwhelmingly opposed. Some students spoke of having known gun violence, even having lost family members. Students spoke of being angry and uncomfortable about weapons on campus and not wanting deadly weapons there. They spoke of being paying students who should be free from worry about weapons. Student Senate hosted a forum to address concerns. Some students and faculty held a silent vigil; others hosted a letter-writing campaign; some chose not to come to campus. One student had a panic attack during the protest. Parents spoke of their deep concern for their sons and daughters. They spoke of why guns do not belong on campuses, and they did so with emotion and anxiety. Some parents asked their students to leave campus that day and indicated that they would want their students to transfer out of New Hampshire if the state allows weapons on its public campuses. Some students, too, said they would leave New Hampshire, at a time when the state is encouraging them to stay and contribute to the state’s future economy and workforce.

Local control matters. At PSU, the elected Student Senate passed a resolution supporting our right “to enact policies regarding the use and possession of firearms on campus . . . to protect the safety of the students,” as did the faculty in a recent meeting, as did the Community-University Task Force, which includes the leadership of the Plymouth and the Plymouth State Police Departments, town citizens and businesspeople, me as University President, and the Chair of the Town of Plymouth Select Board.

I urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to oppose this legislation.