Pennsylvania State Universities Called Out for Quietly Opening Up Campuses to Guns

500px-Spy_silhouetteIn a stellar piece of reporting by Bill Schackner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, students, faculty, and staff of the 14 university Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and the general public now know that Kutztown University is not alone. According to PASSHE spokesperson Ken Marshall, seven PASSHE universities have all “recently amended their policies”: California , Edinboro, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Millersville, Shippensburg, and Slippery Rock.

It’s not surprising that we are finding out now. Upon first glance many of the updated policies seem to prohibit guns on university campuses, unless an individual can demonstrate a “compelling reason” that they should be allowed to carry a weapon. However, as Schackner found in his reporting on Edinboro University’s new policy,

Only after a point-by-point discussion of those rules did Jeffrey Hileman acknowledge in one-word answers this week that “No,” there is no language barring someone from carrying a gun in open campus spaces, and “Yes,” that represents a change from six months ago.

Last week, when I first posted on Kutztown University’s new policy, I contacted every PASSHE university and inquired about their gun policy. Here is the email I sent on May 7th:

This week, Kutztown University modified its campus gun policy on the heels of pressure by a student group called Kutztown University Students for Concealed Carry (see WFMZ story here: http://goo.gl/47SkF). The old university policy banned weapons from “university premises.” The new policy bans weapons only from University buildings and events, effectively allowing the possession of firearms on university property. I have spoken to several other PASSHE universities. Given that there seems to be a range of policies at PASSHE universities, I am contacting the remaining universities as well. I would appreciate it if you could help me answer the following questions:

Have you seen any similar pressure by students, faculty, or outside groups to change your university’s policy?

Does your university currently allow the possession of firearms on campus?

Can your provide me with a copy of the current university policy?

Have your received any directives or advice from PASSHE’s Chancellor’s Office or from the Attorney General to allow guns on your campus?

Thank you in advance for your help.

Best,

Kevin Mahoney
Editor, Raging Chicken Press

Here are the responses I received by the seven PASSHE universities who Kenn Marshall now says have already made changes to their policy:

  • California University: Christine Kindl, Director of Communications and Public Relations, replied, “”I’ve heard no concerns about our weapons policy.” She also included a link to the university’s policy.
  • Edinboro University: Jeff Pinski, Associate Director of Public Relations and Marketing, did not reply.
  • Kutztown University: Matt Santos, Director of University Relations, was responsive and you can read all about KU here.
  • Lock Haven University: Rodney Jenkins, Executive Assistant to the President for External Relations and Communications, included a copy of the university’s policy and replied simply, “NO,” to my other three questions.
  • Millersville University: Janet Kocskos, Director of Communications, replied, “We haven’t had any rumblings about changing our gun policy.” She also included a link to the university policy.
  • Shippensburg University: Peter Gigliotti, Executive Director for University Communications & Marketing, replied that he would respond the following week. He was in charge of Shippensburg’s Commencement (which is a week earlier than all the other PASSHE universities).
  • Slippery Rock University: Rita Abent, Executive Director, University Public Relations, included a copy their policy and provided the most detailed response after a follow-up email. I had tracked down their policy by this point and noticed it had been changed. She wrote:
    • The policy was updated as the result of two things: a request by the PASSHE Chief Student Affairs Officers to look at sister school policies for consistency; and as part of a regular review of policies.
    • Yes, as long as the person has a legal concealed carry permit an is in a public area. The University has a weapons protocol where we encourage owners to check their weapons with the University Police while they are visiting campus.
    • I am not aware of any group pressuring the University for a change to the policy.

In my early discussions with Matt Santos from Kutztown, I asked if the following two scenarios would be in compliance with KU’s new policy:

  • A student/faculty member/staff member/administrator has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That individual comes to campus carrying a concealed weapon, walks around campus, sits down by the waterfall, converses with friends. S/he does not enter a university building or participate in an event. Is this individual in compliance with the new policy or in violation?
  • A student/faculty member/staff member/administrator drives to campus and parks in a university parking lot. In the trunk of the individual’s car is a rifle, a shotgun, and handgun. The individual gets out of their car, locks the car doors and goes into a university building. The guns remain in the trunk of the car. Is this individual in compliance with the new policy or in violation?

As I wrote in my first post on this issue, Santos replied, “the two scenarios you presented would be compliant under the new policy.  I checked this with our police department.” That seemed to fly in the face of the university’s initial claims that anyone who wanted to carry a weapon on campus would have to get special permission.

After being told that Kutztown University had modeled it’s policy after those from Millersville, West Chester, Shippensburg, and Slippery Rock, I contacted each of those universities again on May 8th to see if I was missing something. This time, I posed the same two scenarios and asked if the individual would be in compliance. To my surprise, I received this back from Janet Kocskos at Millersville:

As in all cases, we would address each case individually and apply the laws and policies accordingly.

Based on the very limited information below, the easy answer would be yes, the individual would be in compliance in both of your scenarios.

On May 13th, Peter Gigliotti of Shippensburg got back to me and wrote of the two scenarios:

The answer to both your scenarios is yes, they would be in compliance.

Christine Kindl from Slippery Rock did not respond to my second inquiry. And, Pam Sheridan, Public Relations & Marketing contact for West Chester University, never responded to any of my inquiries.

Like Schackner, this morning I was told by Matt Santos, the University Relations contact person at Kutztown University, that he has been instructed to refer all media inquiries about PASSHE university gun policies directly to Kenn Marshall, PASSHE official spokesperson in Harrisburg. Marshall has just replied to several of my inquires and I will be posting on those in the next few days.

Following this story is to follow the slow unraveling of an attempt to revise university gun policies quietly and with little input from students, faculty, and staff. As of yesterday, I have filed two right-to-know requests in an attempt to better understand the genesis of PASSHE’s new policy.

Raging Chicken Press will continue to follow this issue. You can check our all of our coverage here.

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