Campus Carry: States Weigh Laws on Concealed Weapons at Colleges and Universities

Campus Carry: States Weigh Laws on Concealed Weapons at Colleges and Universities

Violence in and around college campuses is sadly not a new problem for administrators, students, and parents.  Between the spring of 2014 and 2015, the number of schools under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for sexual assault more than doubled.  Almost daily, online papers and blogs publish articles about hazing-related incidents.  And too often, the media reports another tragic shooting in a quiet college town. This may explain the uptick in “campus carry” bills – those that either permit or prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons on college campuses and inside college buildings – introduced during 2015. 

Since earlier this year, roughly 20 states have considered bills that were poised to modify that state’s existing law regarding concealed weapons on campuses.  The majority of those bills favored concealed carry.  Though most of the bills were defeated, Texas successfully passed SB 11 into law on June 13, 2015.  SB 11, which does not go into effect until August 1, 2016, will permit license holders to carry concealed handguns on campuses and inside campus buildings of institutions of higher education in Texas.  It will also prohibit Texas institutions from adopting rules that proscribe license holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus, though the institutions may adopt rules concerning the storage of handguns in on-campus dormitories or other residential facilities owned or leased and operated by the institution.  Private or independent institutions, however, are permitted to prohibit license holders from carrying handguns on the campus of the institution only after consulting with students, staff, and faculty.  

Alternatively, the State of California, introduced and passed a bill prohibiting concealed carry.  Signed into law on October 10, 2015, SB707 specifically prohibits concealed carry holders from carrying their weapons onto California college or university campuses without explicit permission from the president of the college or university or his or her designee.  Those who violate the law can face up to three years in prison.  If the firearm is loaded, they may be incarcerated for four years.  The law does not apply, however, to certain authorized security guards and peace officers.  This signifies a departure from preexisting law, which permitted any person holding a valid license to carry a concealed firearm onto campus. 

Other pro-carry bills are still on the table in other states, including Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  In Georgia, HB 544 would permit a license holder to carry a weapon in or on any real property or building owned by or leased to any public or private college, university, or institution of postsecondary education.  In Florida, HB 4001 would delete the provision of current law that bans concealed carry licensees from carrying concealed weapons or firearms into college or university facilities.  As of November 4, 2015, it was strongly favored by the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee and passed to the Judiciary Committee.  Michigan’s SB 442 would allow any licensed carrier to request an exception that would permit the licensee to carry a concealed weapon into the dorms or classrooms of a college or university; however, private property owners would still be able to prohibit concealed carry.  Ohio HB 48 would modify current law so that concealed carry weapons would not be explicitly banned any longer.  Instead, it would place the decision to permit concealed carry into the hands of the particular college’s or university’s governing body.  It was favored 9-2 during the most recent vote in the House.

Most recently, Wisconsin legislators proposed competing bills – one favoring campus carry and another that would criminalize it.  Wisconsin’s current concealed carry law is similar to Ohio’s HB 48, because it delegates to the University of Wisconsin System and technical colleges the authority to ban concealed weapons in campus buildings.  Using that authority, the UW System added a provision to its administrative code prohibiting persons from carrying, possessing, or using any dangerous weapon on university land or in university buildings or facilities. 

Two proposals seek to shift the current state of the law.  The “Campus Carry Act,” SB 363, would exempt any college or university in the UW System and any technical college from the current law.  In other words, these schools would no longer be able to choose whether or not to ban firearms on their land or in their buildings.  The bill would also repeal the UW System administrative code that prohibits dangerous weapons on university land or in university buildings and facilities.  In response, the “College Dangerous Weapon Ban” was introduced and  would make it a Class I felony to “intentionally go armed” with a dangerous weapon into the building or facility of, or onto the grounds of, a college or university. The competing Wisconsin bills reveal the strongly divergent viewpoints on this topic.  Ultimately, whether campus carry laws actually increase or decrease violence on campus remains to be seen, but it is important that institutions review and update their applicable policies.  Saul Ewing’s Higher Education Practice is ready and willing to help with that initiative. 

This article appears in the Fall 2015 edition of Saul Ewing’s Higher Education Highlights newsletter. Click here to see the complete newsletter.