Some state schools allow guns amid review

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

KUTZTOWN — Students on some Pennsylvania college campuses might be carrying more than their books.

At least five Pennsylvania state-owned universities are now allowing guns on campus after the state's lawyers concluded that an outright ban on weapons was probably unconstitutional.

Kutztown, Shippensburg, Edinboro, Slippery Rock and Millersville universities have all quietly changed their policies over the past year to reflect the advice of lawyers in the governor's office and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Students in those schools are now allowed to have weapons on campus, though they are still generally banned from school buildings and athletic events.

Yet only three weeks after Kutztown dropped its ban, state system officials appeared to be having second thoughts about allowing guns on campus, telling all 14 member schools Friday 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.

Students with concealed-carry permits had questioned the constitutionality of blanket weapons bans at state-owned universities, prompting a legal review that found such bans were vulnerable to court challenge.

About a year ago, the state system provided a model weapons policy for consideration by all 14 schools “that more narrowly tailored the firearms restriction, addressing both public safety and constitutional concerns,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a spokesman for the governor's Office of General Counsel.

Kutztown changed its policy April 19, though it had largely escaped notice until Kutztown President F. Javier Cevallos emailed students, faculty and staff about it Thursday night.

Under the new policy, licensed gun owners are permitted to bring their weapons onto campus, but may not take them into any campus building or athletic event unless first obtaining 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.

Kutztown is not endorsing weapons on campus, spokesman Matt Santos said Friday.

“Our president does not believe that guns have a place on campus,” he said. “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.”

Twenty-two states ban concealed weapons on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Five states — Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin — allow firearms on public university campuses.

Pennsylvania's largest university, Penn State, bans all weapons from campus, though students who hunt or shoot recreationally are permitted to store them with police.

The University of Pittsburgh — like Penn State a state-supported but not state-run school — also prohibits weapons anywhere on campus.

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