Five Pennsylvania state-owned universities now allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus after lawyers in the governor's office and state department of higher education advised that a blanket ban on weapons was vulnerable to legal challenge.
AP reports the state universities are: Kutztown, Shippensburg, Edinboro, Slippery Rock and Millersville.
According to Fox News, the change in policy was made after the attorneys from the state's Office of General Counsel and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) advised 14 state-owned universities to review their weapons policy because a blanket ban on weapons on campus was likely unconstitutional and vulnerable to legal challenge.
PASSHE spokesman Ken Marshall told Fox News that the school authorities were asked to review their policies to ensure that they could be legally enforced.
Marshall said: “Basically, an outright weapons ban would not withstand a legal challenge.”
Fox News notes that five states, Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, have provisions allowing carrying of concealed weapons on public university campuses. Utah is the only state that specifically states that public universities are not allowed to ban concealed carry. Concealed weapons are banned on college campuses in twenty-two states, including California, New York and Florida.
According to AP, the five universities changed their policies over the past year. While students are now allowed to carry weapons on campus, they remain banned from school buildings and athletic events.
Students with concealed-carry permits had raised issues with the school authorities about the the constitutionality of blanket weapons bans, AP reports.
Kutztown President F. Javier Cevallos emailed students, faculty and staff about the change on Thursday night. The email message said: "While I am cognizant of the concerns associated with this change, as a state institution we must follow the advice of legal counsel and do what is necessary to comply with the Second Amendment. I can assure you that we have done everything to implement the strongest policy possible, while staying in compliance with constitutional rights."
Although, licensed gun owners, including students and university employees, are allowed to bring weapons to the campus under the new policy, they are barred from carrying the weapons into buildings and to schools' athletic events. However, the university police chief may waive the rule under exceptional circumstances.
The school's spokesman Matt Santo said: "Our president does not believe that guns have a place on campus. 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."
The new policy has sparked a debate among students. James Alexander, 21, a political science major, said: "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. It's bizarre to me."
The debate about guns on college campuses flared nationwide after the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University in which a gun man killed 32 students before committing suicide. The incident is said to be the single deadliest case of mass shooting in US history. Some students, including gun-rights groups such as Students for Concealed Carry, argued that allowing concealed weapons on college campuses could stop such incidents. Tony Pavoncello, 20, a freshman said: "It could potentially have been stopped, 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."
However, spokesperson for Pennsylvania's largest university, Penn State, which bans all weapons from campus, said: "Our feeling is that police, who are trained in handling firearms, shooting accuracy during stressful situations and in making quick decisions and judgments, should be the ones with weapons. They are the experts."
Gun-rights advocates, however, argue that police typically do not respond in time to mass shooter alarms.
The Pennsylvania director of Students for Concealed Carry, John Haller, told Fox News that the body welcomes the new policy. He said: "It’s a positive movement. Properly trained and licensed Pennsylvanians should be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights on a college campus the same way they would elsewhere."
He criticized people who oppose firearms on campuses, saying: "Criminal activity can happen anywhere and I think you saw that very clearly with the Boston bombings. Of course, universities want to create a dynamic academic environment where people can exchange ideas safely, but the carrying of firearms by properly trained and licensed people is not incompatible with that, quite frankly. We should be allowing college students the ability to defend themselves."
But campus police officers take a different view. The board of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said allowing guns on campuses could cause an upsurge in violence.