ST. GEORGE – Each day a communications professor enters his classroom at Dixie State University with a firearm. If not for the fact he announces at the start of each school year that he is a concealed carry permit holder, none of his students would be the wiser.
“I have a protocol that I follow that I tell my students the first day of class; and that is simply that I am armed. I have a permit to be armed (and) it is concealed,” professor Dennis Wignall said, adding that he also informs students of classroom protocol should there ever be an active shooter situation at the university.
“I will protect myself and my students in the classroom,” he said.
Concealed carry on campus
Utah is one of nine states that allows people to carry concealed firearms (provided they have a concealed carry permit), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Guns on Campus 2017 overview. The other states are Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin.
However, Utah is the only state with a law that specifically names public colleges and universities as public entities, thereby denying institutions the ability to ban concealed weapons on campus.
An attempt by the University of Utah to ban concealed weapons on campus was shot down by the Utah Supreme Court in 2006.
“We have no policy different from the law,” Dixie State Police Chief Don Reid said, reiterating previous statements made to media about gun laws in relation to the university campus.
Overall, 17 states have bans on carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, with 23 others leaving the decision of enacting bans to the individual colleges and universities.
With Utah being a rather gun-friendly state, Wignall isn’t exactly a rare case being a concealed carry permit holder. It’s also unlikely he’s the only one carrying a concealed firearm on campus and in the classroom.
Why hide it?
Wignall has carried a concealed weapon for 50 years and has no problem letting others know about it.
“Why hide stuff?” he said, adding the campus police are also well aware he is a concealed carry permit holder.
Letting others know he is legally carrying a firearm and his reasons for doing so has helped open up dialogue with others on campus who may be uncomfortable knowing there’s a gun near them, Wignall said.
In his experience, he said, a person’s rejection of firearms seems to come from a place of ignorance or a basic lack of understanding.
That rejection has lessened for some people Wignall has encountered over the years, he said. He’s been able to explain about firearms and their proper use. He has taken some folks shooting and some of those have even ended up buying a firearm for themselves.
“They come to realize that it’s the human behind the object and not just the object,” Wignall said.
The Utah Legislature recently passed a law allowing 18-20-year-olds the ability to have a provisional concealed carry permit.
One of the arguments for the law was that allowing 18-20-year-olds the ability to carry a concealed firearm would better enable young people, particularly young women, another means of defending themselves against sexual assault and other violent crimes while on campus.
Prior to the law, an individual had to be 21 in order to apply for a conceal carry permit.
“Is the maturity level of an (18-year-old) sufficient to possess a concealed lethal weapon?” Wignall said.
If someone that age has that level of maturity, Wignall said he has no issues with the new law.
Star Brandt, a Dixie State student from Sandy, said she wasn’t in favor of the change.
“I can see the reason for it as far as safety goes … (but) I feel they are too young to understand how to handle a gun,” she said, and suggested defensive alternatives like pepper spray be used to counter would-be attackers.
As for people carrying concealed weapons on campus in general, Brandt had no objection as long as the person doing it does so within the law and is over 21.
“There’s potential for immaturity at 18,” student Richard Johnson, of St. George, said. “But I feel safe with conceal (sic) carriers who know what they are doing.”
I hope I never have to do it
Through his five decades of being a concealed carry permit holder, Wignall said he’s never had to use his firearm on another person. The closest he ever came to it was letting a person know he was carrying a gun, and that was enough to deter a potentially lethal situation, he said.
“My basic premise is I hope I never have to do it – to respond with a firearm,” he said. “But I am fully capable and motivated to respond immediately under the correct circumstances.”
Responsible gun owners who concealed carry understand they haven’t made a small decision to do so, Wignall said. It means you are willing to defend yourself and others with lethal force if necessary. Concealed carry permit holders are also responsible for getting adequate and continuous training, he said.
Read more: Concealed carry: It’s no small decision
Should there ever be an active shooter on the Dixie State campus and Wignall and his students hear gunfire, there is a protocol in place for just such an event.
Lights and mobile phones are shut off, the classroom door is locked and the students gather in a corner guarded by cinder block walls – and between where a would-be shooter and the students will be, Wignall said.
“Am I anticipating this? Yeah, you have to anticipate it,” he said. “What’s the possibility of it happening? I don’t know. It could happen at anytime.”
Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowdsourcing website that tracks mass-shooting incidents (which it defines as one involving four or more victims) across the United States states claims there have been 121 mass-shooting incidents since the start of 2017, including the recent incident in San Bernardino, California.
Wignall has taught at Dixie State since 2004 and specializes in the areas related to negotiations and bargaining, conflict resolution, argumentation and critical thinking, among others.
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