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2018 State Legislation Governing Guns on Campus

February 22, 2018 Teri Lyn Hinds NASPA

Just over a week ago, families and friends of 17 high school students, faculty, and staff in Parkland, Florida were forced to mourn under the spotlight of our national conversation around guns and gun control. In what has become tragically routine, the coverage of the shooting included discussions of race, mental health, access to and availability of so-called assault rifles, and many calls for legislative action at both the federal and state levels. The activism of the student survivors has kept the conversation in the headlines longer than has become usual for mass shootings, prompting many – advocates both for gun control and for protection of 2nd Amendment rights – to declare a tipping point that will finally prompt legislative and regulatory action. Whether those predictions will actually occur, however, remains to be seen. For example, on Tuesday, the Florida House of Representatives rejected a ban on semiautomatic guns and guns with large capacity magazines, which could indicate that the national debate about guns will be revisited soon.

This post will review 10 pieces of proposed legislation related to firearms on campus in the 10 states that have been acted on state legislatures in 2018.

Map of US states taking action on legislation related to firearms on campus in 2018

Legislation to allow guns on campus

Most of the legislation on which states have taken action in 2018 seems to follow a course established in Utah to remove the ability for institutional presidents or governing bodies to make regulations regarding carrying concealed weapons on their campuses. Legislation pending in Oklahoma (OK SB 1159) removes the authority for campus presidents to create policies preventing concealed handguns in campus buildings. Similar legislation in West Virginia (WV HB 4298) prohibits campus governing boards from enacting regulations restricting the carry of concealed weapons on college campuses except in large (5000+ person capacity) arenas, daycares, areas used by law enforcement. Legislation in Mississippi, which already allows for concealed carry on college campuses, (MS HB 697) would have prevented institutions from making regulations to prohibit concealed carry broadly on campus, but campuses could have developed guidelines and policies in consultation with the campus community to ensure campus safety and appropriate storage for firearms in campus residence halls; the legislation died in committee in late January, 2018.

Other states have specifically taken steps to remove state restrictions on the ability to carry a weapon on college campuses. Kentucky has two pieces of legislation pending, one of which (KY HB 36) would remove all requirements for obtaining a permit to carry a concealed weapon for persons aged 21 or older, establishing constitutional carry. If the legislation passes, they would join at least 11 other states with similar provisions. The other Kentucky bill (KY HB 210) would allow persons with valid concealed deadly weapons licenses or temporary permits to carry concealed weapons on public postsecondary property and in buildings controlled by state and local government, except courtrooms and detention facilities. South Carolina House Bill 4709 (SC H 4709) would, if passed, remove all currently excluded locations from where a concealed weapon may be taken, limiting only to those where concealed weapons are prohibited by federal law. New York is also considering legislation (NY S 1754) that would allow rifles, shotguns, and firearms on college and university campuses.

In what has become a common response from lawmakers in response to school shootings, two states (MO HB 1942 & FL HB 621) are considering legislation to allow public schools and campuses to designate one or more full-time faculty or staff members to volunteer as unpaid campus protection officers in addition to their regular duties. Any person designated as a campus protection officer would be authorized to carry concealed firearms (if they have a concealed carry permit) on campus.

Legislation to restrict guns on campus

Only one state so far in 2018 is considering legislation that would criminalize those who carry guns on campus in violation of state law. New Jersey Senate Bill 1854 (NJ S 1854) would fine any person who “knowingly has in their possession any firearm while within 1,000 feet from the outermost boundaries of buildings or grounds owned or leased by any school, college, university or other education institution and used for school purposes, or while on any school bus, and possesses that firearm in violation of any law of this State guilty of a crime of the third degree.”

Trends in campus carry legislation

In 2017, Georgia passed a new campus carry law and Arkansas expanded its law, which previously only allowed faculty and staff to carry firearms. Kansas also revised an existing law. These actions bring the number of states that allow concealed weapons on some or all campuses to 10, with an additional 23 states leaving the decision to individual campuses. Fourteen other states considered campus carry legislation in 2017, but it did not pass their legislatures. Check out our July 2017 post, which recaps campus carry legislation that passed during the 2017 legislative session. The National Conference of State Legislatures also monitors campus carry legislation and maintains a useful summary of the current state laws in all states that allow firearms on college campuses.

As noted by Dr. John Wesley Lowery, chair of the Department of Student Affairs at Indiana University of Pennsylvania during his presentation “Talking Openly about Concealed Carry on Campus” at the 2017 NASPA Annual Meeting, the gun lobby is noted for its tenacity, returning year after year to remove restrictions on when and where individuals may carry concealed weapons. In this view, it’s less a matter of whether there will be more guns allowed on college campuses and more a matter of when. Regardless of your position on gun control or concealed campus carry, as a student affairs professional you may be asked to help prepare your institution for changes in gun laws and respond to incidents that may occur on campus, such as accidental reveals of concealed weapons. Be sure to look for sessions at #NASPA18 to connect with other student affairs professionals on this and many other topics!