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Voices: Gun Violence Reaches Our Arizona Campus

by Stephen A. Nuño /  / Updated 

My warmest thoughts go out to the victims and students who now have a much different view of their beautiful campus and gorgeous mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona. Shootings are very rare here, and crime is largely contained in the poorer communities surrounding the city, which is a common feature of American politics. Only when crime reaches onto campus or the more affluent neighborhoods do to we pay much attention to these events.

As a professor at Northern Arizona University since 2008, my heart sinks at the news of yet another campus shooting. Gun violence has now reached our loving campus. Flagstaff has about 68,000 residents with another 60,000 in surrounding rural areas. The University adds about 21,000 students during the school year. The town sits at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, a small mountain range, and is surrounded by an almost two million acre forest of majestic Ponderosa pine trees. Though the image of Arizona is largely that of desert and towering cacti, Flagstaff is at an elevation of about 7,000 feet with the nearby Humphrey's Peak the highest point in Arizona, at 12,600 feet in elevation. Elk are a regular feature of the surrounding Flagstaff landscape.

About 50-75 freight trains go through town every day and seem to be in perpetual motion through the center of Downtown Flagstaff. It is not unusual for it to snow in November and March, as we get over 100 inches of snow per year. Flagstaff is a 50 minute drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and 45 minutes from the Red Rocks of Sedona. We sit between three major Native American tribes and Northern Arizona University serves their communities with a relatively high Native American student population. It is a beautiful town and I am lucky to call Flagstaff home.

Now for guns. Arizona has perhaps the most liberal laws on guns in the country. You don't need a permit to carry a firearm, whether it is concealed or open. It is common to see people carrying guns at the grocery store. It is legal for people with concealed weapons permits to carry their gun into the bar so long as the establishment does not forbid it with a clearly marked sign out front.

I've seen parents with their holstered firearm at the playground with their kids. I have four kids of my own. Those who don't think this is common simply aren't paying attention, and it is easy to not pay attention. There are no waiting periods before you buy a firearm here. There are three gun shops in town that I am aware of, not counting the many big box stores that cater to hunters with firearms and equipment. There is also a steady stream of gun shows nearby.

Image:
Authorities gather outside a student dormitory in Flagstaff, Ariz., Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, after an early morning fight between two groups of college students escalated into gunfire leaving one person dead and three others wounded, authorities said. The shooting occurred near the Northern Arizona University campus.Felicia Fonseca / AP

Guns are part of the western cowboy culture here. Arizonans love their guns and our legislature is run by Republicans and Democrats who are emphatically pro-gun. Our Democratic Congresswoman, Ann Kirkpatrick gets a rare "A" grade from the National Rifle Association. Would this have happened if there were more laws? Well, clearly guns are easy to get here. Clearly gun violence cannot happen without guns. Arizona sits in the middle of the upper half of states on gun violence statistics. It is against school policy to carry firearms on our college campuses, and former Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have made it legal to carry firearms on campus in 2011.

Arizonans love their guns and it is doubtful any changes to restrict guns will be made because of this latest school shooting. In fact, since campuses are a gun-free zones, it wouldn't surprise me if some legislators use this incident to revive the debate over allowing permit holders to carry their guns on campus, which I am decidedly against.

As this familiar conversation continues, I know this great town has already begun the healing process, and we will move forward, albeit now with our own casualties from this nation-wide problem.

NBC News contributor Stephen A. Nuño is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University.@stephenanuno

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