Two libertarian student groups hope to eventually legalize a concealed carry weapons policy on the University of Maryland campus for self-defense purposes, said sophomore economics major Yusuf Mahmood. But for now, Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty are attempting to change the student code of conduct so it no longer punishes students for what the groups consider "victimless crimes," such as owning or carrying pepper spray.
"Owning a taser, owning a can of mace, these are all victimless crimes," said Students for Liberty President Ethan Pritchard, a senior management major. "Using it, especially if you're the aggressor, that's not okay. We try to divorce the idea that just because something is legal means that it's moral to use."
In order to gauge the student body's opinion of what's justifiable in self-defense, Pritchard and Mahmood, Young Americans for Liberty president, polled students Wednesday on McKeldin Mall.
Two days prior to the polling, a student at Ohio State University drove a car into pedestrians on the school's campus and began attacking people with a knife, injuring 11 before police shot him.
The poll asked students to choose any of four options — a taser, a knife, a mace or firearm — they saw fit to use to defend themselves, Pritchard said. Some people may have only chosen firearm, Pritchard said, thinking they had to pick the most effective and/or only one of the options.
The results showed mace was the most popular with 44 votes, taser with 20 and knife and firearm both with 14 votes. Students who said people had a right to use all four weapons as self-defense were asked to sign a petition endorsing "a campus policy grounded in recognition of the right to self defense … and to make clear that policies prohibiting the peaceful and lawful carrying of weapons for self-defense creates a class of victims for criminals to target." The petition received 26 signatures.
"For the most part, everybody that stopped to talk to us believed the self defense was a right," Pritchard said.
But not everyone agreed with this cause.
"A lot of the people who said no, I'm guessing, are people who would've said no to anyone who was stopping them for anything," Mahmood added.
Both Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty collected this data in response to a new initiative from the Young Americans for Liberty national organization, Mahmood said.
Although opinions differ on the severity of these crimes, Mark Graber, who is a professor in the University of Maryland-Baltimore's Francis King Carey School of Law, said he does not consider possession of pepper spray to be a "victimless crime."
"They might use pepper spray on the wrong people, so they're not talking about victimless crimes. That's complete nonsense," he said. "The question is whether people may carry dangerous things … because they believe it is more likely they'll use them to protect themselves than harm others … once you phrase the question like that, the answer is no."
Still, some students were skeptical of a policy allowing students to carry around weapons such as pepper spray and knives with blades longer than five inches.
"A lot of them are like, 'If you have mace aren't people just going to be macing each other?' No, like you're allowed to have mace anywhere other than campus. That's not the case," Pritchard said.
Mahmood reiterated that allowing these weapons on campus was not an endorsement for their use.
"We're not necessarily saying, 'Oh yeah, everyone should have a gun,'" he said. "It's not that, it's like, 'Should you be punished for having a gun?' or 'Should you be punished for having a knife that's five and a half inches long and not five inches long?' So the answer for us to all of those is no."
Any changes to the code that are not considered technical changes would have to go through the University Senate, said Vanessa Taft, assistant director of the Office of Student Conduct.