Though many schools have umbrella policies to ban all weapons, some universities are allowing firearms to avoid possible lawsuits.
Kutztown University’s president, F. Javier Cevallos, emailed the students, faculty, and staff of the Pennsylvania school to talk about a change in policy that was made in April: there is no longer a concealed-weapons ban on all university property.
State lawyers dug thoroughly into the topic of firearms on school campuses after several students with concealed-carry permits questioned the constitutionality of completely banning weapons at state-owned universities. Their conclusion? That type of ban was most likely unconstitutional and, at the very least, left schools vulnerable to legal claims.
Pennsylvania is among 23 states that allow colleges to decide if they will ban concealed weapons on campus—and while 22 other states have an outright ban on concealed weapons, Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin all allow firearms on public university campuses. Kutztown, Shippensburg, Edinboro, Slippery Rock, and Millersville universities in Pennsylvania have all taken the state lawyers’ advice and changed their policies over the past year so that students may now have weapons on campus.
“Our president does not believe that guns have a place on campus,” Matt Santos, spokesman for Kutztown, said on Friday. “We will do what we can to keep our campus free of weapons and have written the policy to keep it as strong as possible to keep weapons away from buildings and campus events. We believe we provide a very safe environment for students to learn and live.”
Under the new policy, licensed gun owners are permitted to bring their weapons onto campus, but not into buildings or athletic events without permission from the university police chief. The chief will consider making an exception if there is a “compelling reason” related to personal safety, the policy says.
With the change has come the inevitable debate about whether this new policy is a good idea. James Alexander, a policial science major from Pottstown, which has a similar policy, does not agree with the schools’ decisions to allow firearms. “It promotes violence. You have lethal weapons on campus in a place where we’re supposed to get a higher education—not carry bullets and guns and be prepared to kill someone.”
In favor of the policy, Tony Pavoncello, from York, brought up the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 when 32 students were killed by a gunman. “It could potentially have been stopped,” he said,” if one or more students had been armed and had been there when he came in the door. You never know what might have happened. It might have changed something.” The Students for Concealed Carry, a group started after Virginia Tech, agree that an armed campus is a safer campus because police cannot always respond quickly enough to stop situations like mass shootings.
The debate has prompted the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to reconsider the policy; schools were to hold off on weapons policy changes until a task force on campus safety can weigh in.
“Given the importance of this issue, the significance of this issue, we think it’s a good idea to take a second look,” state system spokesman Kenn Marshall said.