Sunday, December 28, 2014

State system universities may allow firearms in open areas of campus

The system that oversees 14 state-run universities is considering allowing a policy that would allow firearms in open areas of campus. Public forum on the proposal set for Thursday.

State system universities may allow firearms in open areas of campus

Pennsylvania’s 14 state-run universities would allow firearms in open areas of campus, such as sidewalks and parking lots, but ban them in all areas deemed “sensitive” under a proposal likely to be voted on later this month.

Deadly weapons including firearms would be prohibited inside all campus buildings including residence halls, student union buildings and cafeterias. They also would be banned from sporting and entertainment events, commencement ceremonies and other indoor and outdoor areas where large numbers gather. Outdoor class meetings, field trips and camps also would carry the ban.

Under the proposal, deadly weapons include knives with blades longer than three inches, swords, clubs, bow and arrow, explosives and ammunition in addition to firearms. Small pocketknives are not considered to be a deadly weapon.

A panel of officials for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education will take public comment on the proposal during a webcast at 10 a.m. on Thursday. The webcast can be viewed on the system’s web site at www.passhe.edu.

The public can attend the panel discussion at the Dixon University Center, 2986 N. Second Street, in Harrisburg or submit comments or questions in advance via email to: publicsafetytaskforce@passhe.edu.

The board of governors for the state system is likely to vote on the proposal at its regular meeting on Jan. 23.

“The goal of this process is to assure that the PASSHE universities continue to provide a safe and secure learning environment for students by adopting a unified weapons management policy that is consistent with both state and federal laws,” the state system said in a press release.

The 14 state universities include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.

Seven of the universities - California, Edinboro, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Millersville, Shippensburg and Slippery Rock - already have adopted policies on their own that closely mirror the proposal, the system said.

“Those campuses have not experienced any related changes in crime trends since implementing the new policies,” the system said.

Kutztown University last spring voted to allow firearms in open areas of its 289-acre campus in Berks County. Its move followed recommendations from state system lawyers who advised that a blanket prohibition is legally unenforceable.

Kutztown announced that it would still restrict weapons "in academic buildings, administrative buildings, student residence halls (both university owned or leased), dining facilities, student union buildings, athletic facilities, recreation centers, or while attending a sporting, entertainment, or educational event on university property or sponsored by the university."

The state system in April established a task force to look at safety and security and develop a systemwide policy. The task force included members of the board of governors, presidents, students, faculty and law enforcement.

The state system lawyers' recommendation to review policies came in response to questions by students who possess licenses to carry firearms and questioned whether a ban violated the Second Amendment. Supreme Court cases in recent years have struck down blanket bans, though allowing regulation in sensitive places.

Such narrowly tailored policies have withstood constitutional challenge. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that George Mason University's ban on guns in buildings and at events does not violate the Constitution. George Mason also is a public university. Around the country, other public institutions have taken steps similar to Kutztown to keep within federal and state constitutional law.

To view the proposed policy, go to: http://www.passhe.edu/inside/er/Documents/Draft%20Weapons%20Policy.pdf

Susan Snyder
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CampusInq provides higher education news about colleges and universities throughout the Philadelphia region and beyond. Look here for breaking news stories, features and newsy nuggets that might or might not appear in the print version of the Inquirer.

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