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Sen. Durbin Suggests Concealed Carry Laws Prevent Free Speech on College Campuses

The Illinois senator suggested during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that concealed carry laws are endangering students on college campuses.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) suggested that states that allow students to carry guns on campus because of the state’s concealed carry laws prevent freedom of expression from occurring on the college campuses in these states, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

“Now put yourself in the position of the president of the university. You want to encourage the exchange of ideas, let’s start with that premise, but you also have the responsibility for the safety of the students, and what might happen from those who come and attend a meeting, and what the reaction might be,” Durbin told the panel. “Now add another element: ten states allow the carrying of guns on college campuses. Doesn’t this makes this a little more complicated for the college president, as to whether or not that speaker is going to be allowed to come in and speak? Let me ask you to address that.”

Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Durbin that university has an obligation to take efforts to protect the speaker and the students.

“I think the real issue is what’s the rule and what’s the exception,” said constitutional law expert Floyd Abrams. “The rule has to be we allow speech. We don’t censor speech, we don’t rule out speakers because of the possibility that they’ll be some sort of harmful impact because they speak.”

Durbin interrupted Abrams, telling him that the premise of the situation is that in ten states there are concealed carry laws, and that under these laws the speakers are allowed to carry guns on the campus.

“So they are … it’s perfectly constitutional,” Abrams responded. “That does not empower college presidents to shut down campuses. There has to be more than a credible threat.”