State System schools mull Pa. weapons ban

Policy would bar guns in ‘sensitive areas’ of campuses

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A proposal to bar weapons from buildings and other "sensitive areas" of Pennsylvania's 14 state university campuses will be the subject of a webcast Thursday which the public can attend or submit comments beforehand.

The one-hour session, set for the State System of Higher Education's headquarters in Harrisburg, comes in advance of a State System board of governors meeting Jan. 23 at which a vote on the policy could occur.

Officials have said they want to clarify rules that now vary by campus. The proposal, as described Monday by officials, appears to prohibit weapons including firearms from nearly all areas of the universities.

"Essentially [any] indoor areas, residence halls, dining halls, academic buildings and any outside area where large numbers of people congregate, like sports events, or if the place is being used for an outdoor classroom," State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said.

If approved, it could be in place for the 2014-15 academic year.

The 10 a.m. webcast will take place in the administration building at the Dixon University Center, 2986 N. Second St., Harrisburg. Those interested can participate in person or submit comments or questions in advance via email to: publicsafetytaskforce@passhe.edu.

The webcast may be viewed at www.passhe.edu.

A number of State System universities had outright campus bans, even in open spaces such as walkways, but modified the rules after attorneys for the State System in 2011 advised those schools that outright bans were not legally enforceable.

The lawyers offered their advice after individuals, including at least one student, challenged existing campus rules, officials said.

About half the State System schools, including Edinboro, California and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania, modified their policies to ones closer to what is now proposed.

The changes on some campuses drew scant notice. But after Kutztown University altered its policy April 19, a social media buzz led to inquiries from the public and from national news outlets. Within days, State System board chairman Guido Pichini asked system schools to make no further changes until a task force could explore the matter as part of a wider security review.

That panel made its recommendation, and now the board is weighing a policy that resembles one at George Mason University, which has withstood a constitutional challenge in court, Mr. Marshall said.

In addition to California, Slippery Rock and Edinboro, Western Pennsylvania schools in the State System include Indiana University and Clarion University.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.

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