Campus fire power: Pa. universities should stand tough against guns

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The law of unintended consequences has posed a dilemma for Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities.

When the Legislature passed and Gov. Tom Corbett signed an expansion of the so-called Castle Doctrine — which stretched the boundaries of one’s defensible “castle” beyond the home and into public places — gun-rights advocates took aim at weapons bans on campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The system’s attorneys said the bans no longer were legally enforceable, even though they were consistent with those in place on other college campuses in Pennsylvania, including state-related Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh. The difference is that the state-owned campuses are public property.

The system decided it needed a uniform policy to replace the bans, which led to a proposal that would prohibit the carrying of deadly weapons in any “sensitive” areas of the campuses — a broad category that includes just about every classroom building, dormitory, library, stadium and even some outdoor areas where people assemble.

That may be a legally defensible solution, and it may be the best the system can devise. However, it’s too soon for the system to enact that option, so it's good news that a vote on the policy has been postponed indefinitely.

Ideally, officials should keep total bans in place while they wait for the inevitable legal challenge. In the meantime, they should lobby legislators to craft an amendment to the Castle Doctrine that makes an exception for public university campuses. Doing so would bring them in line with comparable institutions across the state and serve as recognition that allowing a proliferation of weapons in the untrained hands of students at an unpredictable stage of life is not wise.

The gun lobby will resist, of course, and the group is a powerful influence in Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, the system should not give up without a fight on an issue that poses too much risk for students and others on its campuses.

We don’t buy the argument that arming more of the campus population will make these institutions safer. The myth of effective armed resistance is precisely that, a myth.

College campuses are among the safest places in the nation, but victims of the crimes that do occur could be put at additional risk if the criminals committing them have the benefit of freely carrying deadly weapons.

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