Pa. state university system delays vote on weapons policy

The governing body of Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities will delay consideration of a policy that would allow guns on open areas of campus, such as sidewalks and parking lots, the system’s chancellor said Thursday.

Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said more study is needed before a policy can be adopted and no vote will be taken during the board’s meeting on Jan. 23.

“We still have far too much work to do,” Brogan said at a meeting to discuss the proposed policy, put forth by a task force of board members, university presidents, students, faculty, and law enforcement.

The meeting, held in Harrisburg, also was webcast.

Brogan did not say how long a vote would be delayed or when a decision was made to postpone consideration.

Several faculty union leaders spoke out against the policy at the meeting, calling for the system to continue to maintain a gun free zone.

“The best policy...,” said Steve Hicks, a professor at Lock Haven University and president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, “is to prohibit weapons on all areas of campus unless carried by police, security officers or other security personnel.”

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

However, seven of the system’s universities - California, Edinboro, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Millersville, Shippensburg and Slippery Rock - already have adopted policies on their own that closely mirror the proposed policy. Their actions, the first of which occurred in April 2012, followed recommendations from lawyers for the state system, who said a blanket prohibition is legally unenforceable. Supreme Court cases in recent years have struck down blanket bans, though allowing regulation in sensitive places.

Kutztown University last spring began to allow firearms in open areas of its 289-acre campus in Berks County. The university said it would still restrict weapons in buildings and athletic facilities "or while attending a sporting, entertainment, or educational event on university property or sponsored by the university. "

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 similar steps to keep within federal and state constitutional law, according to Ada Meloy, general counsel to the American Council on Education.

Under the system’s proposal, deadly weapons including firearms would continue to 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.