Recent shootings on school grounds have raised the question of whether to allow students to carry weapons on campuses. While New York state law has not changed, other states, such as Texas, have seen legislation change, allowing for a student to carry a loaded, concealed weapon in buildings at all four-year state colleges and universities.
Ithaca College offers students a policy to register and store firearms and weapons with the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management so they have access to them. New York state law S 265.01 prohibits college students on a campus to carry or possess a weapon on school grounds. New York is one of 10 states where possession of guns on campus is prohibited by law, with legislation defining exceptions varying state-to-state, according to Armed Campuses’ website.
Bill Kerry, director of the Office of Public Safety, said that as long as the weapon is legally owned, it can be stored with Public Safety. Kerry said that since the start of this academic year, there have only been three students who have registered weapons.
Tom Dunn, lieutenant for the Office of Public Safety, said students who wish to have a weapon on campus have to register it through Public Safety. All registered weapons are stored in a large firearm safe and can be accessed only if there is an officer present and permission to release the weapon has been secured in advance.
“The beauty of it is that we’re open 24/7, so it’s not like we’re limiting your access,” Dunn said. “It’s not like Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. you can have your weapon — it’s 24/7.”
Kerry said this policy is a unique offering because not all colleges have a system like this for students to utilize. For example, Massachusetts colleges and universities such as Amherst College follow a Massachusetts state law similar to the New York state law that prohibits students from carrying a weapon on campus. However, John Carter, chief of police for the Amherst College Police, said in an email his college does not offer the storing of firearms to non–police officers, and Amherst has no plans to do so.
Other colleges, such as Union College in New York and Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, offer services where students can store weapons with their campus safety offices. Mike McCrary, sergeant for the Campus Safety Department at Union College, said only one student at his college currently has a weapon registered with the Campus Safety Department. Douglas Babcock, director of the Department of Public Safety at Saint Michael’s College, said the number of students who have a weapon registered is in the single digits.
Scott Geeting, police sergeant at the University of Oregon, said his university’s policy does not allow students to possess or carry weapons. However, he said that due to where the campus is located, there is the possibility of someone walking on campus with either a concealed or open weapon, and there would not be much legal action able to be taken since open carry is legal in Oregon.
“If someone’s doing that and they’re just walking through or passing through the campus, yeah, they’re going to cause a great deal of stir, but because we’re a semiopen campus in the middle of a city, it’s very unlikely that we would be able to … deal with it legally,” Geeting said.
Kerry said the college offers this policy to try to appeal to as many students as possible.
“As an institution, we want to offer the best student–life experience that all of our students seek, and there’s a lot of different interests with our student population,” Kerry said. “Hunting or recreational use of firearms is one of those things, so we continue to hope each year that nobody abuses the ability to do this.”
Senior Colton Freeman said he utilized this policy from his freshman to junior year to store his father’s bow. Now, he lives off-campus, so he does not store the bow with Public Safety. Freeman said he would use the bow to go target shooting with his friends.
He said he had a good experience storing a weapon with Public Safety and that an officer in the office was always willing to let him take the bow when he wanted to.
“I never had any problems with them,” Freeman said. “They were pretty easygoing about it.”
Michael Leary, assistant director of the Office of Judicial Affairs, said it is rare to see any gun violations on campus but that violations regarding airsoft or paintball guns are more common. According to the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, in 2016, there were seven arrests and 15 disciplinary actions made for the carrying or possession of a weapon on campus. The report does not specify which type of weapons the students were possessing.
Judicial actions taken against a student violating any policies would vary depending on the circumstance, Leary said. He said the punishments could range anywhere from a warning, if the student was unaware of the college’s policy, to suspension or expulsion if a student threatened another person on campus with a weapon. In the end, he said, regardless of the judicial action, the student is always informed on why the violation could be dangerous and what policies are in place.
“We want to have some kind of educational sanction because the important part is so somebody learns this is why we have a policy,” Leary said.
Senior David Heffernan, president of the college’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, said he thinks storing a weapon with Public Safety that a student may use for self-defense defeats the purpose of having a weapon at all since one would not have immediate access to it. Heffernan said he would be in favor of allowing students to carry small self-defense weapons, such as Mace, Tasers and potentially small knives. In New York state, some knives, such as daggers, are legal to own, and pepper spray with less than 10 percent capsaicin concentration is allowed on campus but still could be considered a weapon under the college’s policies, which The Ithacan previously reported.
“If it’s for self-defense, don’t lock it up somewhere where you can’t access it,” Heffernan said.
Freshman Sydney Gershon, who was not previously aware of the college’s policy, said she thinks the New York state laws prohibiting weapons on campus are reasonable. She said she would still fear a weapon if it were concealed and carried by someone on campus.
“It’s not safe, and if you’re carrying it, God forbid you leave it somewhere or drop it somewhere, and I’m not saying people are irresponsible, but I’m saying that can be a real hazard,” Gershon said.