April 7, 2011 11:57:11 PM
PHOENIX, April 7 (Reuters) - The Arizona House on Thursday approved a landmark bill allowing guns on campuses, making it only the second state in the nation to allow firearms to be carried at colleges and universities.
The Republican-led House voted 33 to 24 to allow firearms to be carried in the open or concealed in public rights of way, such as campus streets and roadways.
"We're allowing people to defend themselves," said Rep. David Gowan Sr., a Republican, who voted for the bill.
"The purpose of carrying a gun with you is to defend yourself against that aggressor," he added.
The measure now goes to Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer. She has not said if she will sign it into law but has been a strong gun-rights advocate in the past.
If the measure is enacted, Arizona would join Utah as the only states to specifically allow such gun rights. Utah goes one step further, allowing firearms inside campus buildings.
The move comes as opponents and supporters face off across the country over gun laws, with nine states this year seeking to broaden citizens' rights to tote firearms on campuses.
Supporters of Arizona's bill argue that a person's constitutional right to bear arms should not be taken away just because he or she is on a campus. They claim that allowing guns there could save lives in the event of a campus shooting.
But the bill faced widespread opposition from college and university administrators, faculty and law enforcement officials.
Opponents claimed it would put campus police at a dangerous disadvantage in trying to prevent campus shootings.
Faculty groups at the state's three universities passed resolutions against the bill.
Rep. Steve Farley, a Democrat, said the idea strikes at the heart of higher education and will make it hard to attract top-flight faculty and staff.
"I don't believe this is a good move for us," he told legislators during the vote. "I think it compromises the key core goal of our universities ... (to) have a free and unintimidating exchange of ideas."
Other lawmakers questioned the bill because it does not specifically define what constitutes public rights of way. They said a legal challenge is likely. (Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Ellen Wulfhorst)
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