State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

PASSHE guns review continues, with unclear mandate

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jun 4, 2013 7:09 PM

A task force's review of weapons policies at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities could last through the beginning of the fall semester.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is re-examining gun policies after state lawyers raised concerns that campus-wide bans of firearms possession could be vulnerable to state and federal constitutional challenges.

Kenn Marshall, a state system spokesman, says schools have been advised to create site-specific bans in the meantime.

"Dining halls, residence halls, academic buildings, libraries," said Marshall, giving examples. "You can't have [guns] inside and you also can't have them where an event is held. You can't have them at a sporting event or... a football stadium or an outdoor concert area."

The task force was created after Kutztown University loosened its campus ban on guns. The Berks County college is one of seven state-owned schools that changed its rules after being advised by its lawyers that campus-wide bans on firearms in other states had been struck down by the U-S Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Kutztown's president said in a statement he still thinks a campus is "no place" for guns. The other colleges that have adopted the patchwork guns ban (no guns inside buildings or outdoor events) are California, Edinboro, Lock Haven, Millersville, Shippensburg, and Slippery Rock.

A spokesman for the governor's Office of General Counsel said such prohibitions are an issue because the Pennsylvania constitution's firearms protection is even more broad than the Second Amendment. Private institutions, said the spokesman, are allowed to regulate firearms on their campuses without the same constitutional concerns.

The PASSHE task force taking a look at gun policies doesn't have to issue its recommendations until October. It held the second of its meetings Tuesday.

But the necessity and desired outcome of the task force is unclear. Marshall, the system's spokesman, wouldn't say whether PASSHE wants to see a uniform guns policy. And by his own admission, the suggested site-specific guns ban already adopted by seven schools would be sufficient to ward off legal challenges.

"In other states, those kind of bans have been upheld by the courts," said Marshall.

"I think the board of governors just was interested, and basically said, 'Let's take a step back,'" Marshall continued. "Let's take a good hard look at this, and make sure that we are doing everything we can again to provide for the security and safety of our students and our staff and campus visitors."

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