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Concealed Carry on Campus: Understanding Policy to Support Safe Practice

  
The question of carrying weapons on campus, whether concealed or in the open, often results in heated debate from both sides of the issue. Gun control laws are increasingly relevant in higher education, as more states find themselves implementing legislation or court rulings that allow students to bring their legal firearms on campus, and in some cases, into classrooms and residence halls.
According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, “[in] 2013, at least 19 states introduced legislation to allow concealed carry on campus in some regard and in the 2014 legislative session, at least 14 states introduced similar legislation.” Today, there are nine states that allow concealed guns on campus (Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wyoming), though five of those states allow for institutions to limit where on campus weapons are allowed.
 
Individual state laws vary beyond those nine states, as detailed in a January, 2016 report from NASPA and the Education Commission of the States. However, procedure and best practices for student conduct professionals should not vary from campus to campus. To be clear, this blog post will not advocate for or promote any stance on the issue, but instead suggest that student conduct officers can be best equipped by knowing state law, understanding (and in some cases developing) campus policy, and by knowing how to fairly and safely enforce the law.
 
Know the State Law
The intricate nature of state gun laws, specifically regarding state and federally-owned buildings, can make it more difficult to understand the state law. As a student conduct professional, it's critical to understand your state law. Despite being a concealed carry state, Texas still has restrictions on where a licensed gun owner can bring their weapon. Licensed gun owners are prohibited from bringing their weapon into a childcare center or around a nuclear reactor. This may sound nuanced, but on a campus like Texas A&M University (TAMU), where concealed carry will go into effect in August 2016, it's important to recognize the places on campus where guns are not allowed.
 
Similarly, as the NASPA report explains, “[of] the 21 states that prohibit guns on campuses, at least eight states have policies in place that allow firearms to be stored in a locked vehicle parked on the institution's premises.” Reciprocity between states can further muddy the issue, so it's important to make sure your team is well-informed on the state laws before wading into on-campus policy, and to clearly understand what reciprocity means and with which states your sate has reciprocity.

Dave Parrott, former Executive Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at Texas A&M (now Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Florida), was part of a task force that was assembled by the president of the university, emphasized the focus on implementing the state law, not debating it. Having a deep understanding of your state's laws on concealed carry is a critical first step to approaching campus policy and to implementing the law.
 
Developing and Understanding Campus Policy
Whether a state school or a nonprofit institution, every campus has its own approach to sensitive subjects. At Texas A&M, the task force Parrott served on made it a priority to put together a website and FAQ including the basic information around concealed carry in Texas, leveraging the perspectives of a task force comprised of students, faculty and staff, before making any recommendations on campus policy. Student conduct officers (SCOs) are often called upon for policy development, and creating a gun-free zone for student conduct proceedings may be absolutely appropriate, considering the emotional nature of student conduct hearings. SCOs are encouraged to make their voices heard at both the legislative and campus levels (as appropriate), to ensure that law and policy reflect best practices.
 
It's important for SCOs to remain agnostic on the issue, while simultaneously informing themselves of both sides of the campus carry debate. Parrott explained, “educational environments aspire to be safe for everyone who attends or works at a university, but a large proportion of people are afraid of firearms, and a large proportion of people are afraid of gun-free zones, both of which are deeply held beliefs and fears.” When developing campus carry policies, reach out to administrators at other institutions and ask for their guidance, if their policies aren't publicly available online. Arm yourself with data and accurate information before making any policy, and remember to check the FAQ pages of other institutions who have created campus carry policies (listed below).
 
Fair and Safe Enforcement 
Institutions are legally required to implement state and federal laws, but have the power to develop campus-specific policies that make the most sense for their students, faculty and staff. As an SCO, it's important to be able to ensure both fair enactment of policy and law, as well as the overall safety of students, faculty and staff. Take stock of the resources available on campus and online, and don't be afraid to have difficult conversations about what campus carry laws could mean for your school.
 
Campus carry laws are in flux, and you have the power to be as informed as possible. Know your state laws and campus policy, and if you feel that your institution needs a refresh, have confidence in leading that conversation. Every student has the right to feel safe on campus, and SCOs can help develop and enforce campus carry policies that align with state laws.
 
Additional Resources:
University of Colorado, Denver
North Idaho College 
Idaho State University
Boise State University
University of Texas at El Paso
University of Utah
 
Image courtesy of Phiseksit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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