A year after a deranged gunman killed 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech, a debate over thwarting future attacks continues in Minnesota, where a legislator advocates allowing students to carry concealed weapons for protection on campus.

The proposal by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, faces an uphill climb but reflects a national movement among gun advocates and some students to overturn prohibitions on students carrying weapons at college.

Contradicting the prevailing view and policies of Minnesota universities, the gun supporters argue that trained, armed students would prevent or minimize violence on campus.

Alex Tripp, a student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, who is active in the effort to allow students to carry guns, cited the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University in a recent letter to Cornish urging a change in state law.

"Before last year's shootings I never was scared on campus," Tripp wrote. "After these two shootings, I am scared. Very scared."

But opponents of the measure say there is no evidence that allowing students to carry concealed weapons would improve campus safety.

"It would raise more risks," said Heather Martens, president of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, adding that firearms would introduce a new danger to college drinking and suicide attempts. She said the 2003 state law allowing adults to carry concealed weapons in most places didn't improve public safety, so "why would it improve public safety on campuses?"

Martens was among two dozen people attending a rally outside the Capitol Wednesday to urge tougher background checks for gun purchasers, saying the Virginia violence might have been prevented with better regulations.

MnSCU, not U, affected

The bill Cornish introduced Wednesday would remove the authority of universities to prohibit gun possession by students on school grounds. The change would allow students 21 and older with gun permits to bring weapons on campus.

"More lives would have been saved than lost if somebody had responded with a firearm," Cornish said of the campus shootings.

His bill would affect the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, which bans its 382,000 students on 53 campuses from carrying guns. Melinda Voss, a spokeswoman for the MnSCU, said Wednesday that it doesn't have an opinion on the proposal.

The bill would not affect the University of Minnesota, which enjoys considerable autonomy from state statutes under the Minnesota Constitution. The Board of Regents in 2003 banned weapons from all campuses and university-related events in reaction to the state law allowing adults to carry concealed guns.

University general counsel Mark Rotenberg said rare episodes of violence at American universities don't justify allowing guns on campus for protection.

"There are spectacular examples ... of violence on university campuses, but the facts are that this university and most university campuses are among the very safest places in the urban area," he said.

The prospects of Cornish's bill gaining approval in a DFL-controlled Legislature appear slim. Another measure he proposed this year authorizing deadly force against an intruder entering a porch, garage or occupied car failed to advance.

Still, Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, who opposes Cornish's campus gun bill, warned that it could advance as part of broader legislation. Paymar has proposed a bill calling for better background checks that has stalled in the Legislature. At the rally, he blamed the inaction on his own bill on lobbying by the National Rifle Association, which "has put the fear of God in legislators."

Tripp, a 21-year-old junior, is a member of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which claims 25,000 members nationwide. He does not recall a serious incident at Mankato State, but said, "You never know when something like this could happen, and we don't think we should be left defenseless."

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210