In Bill Hanrahan’s Op-Ed on March 5, he suggests that the Department of Public Safety’s current prohibition on firearm possession on campus is unconstitutional. While I concur with his belief that the ban is wrong, I have a far simpler explanation as to why the current ban is in violation of state law. Mr. Hanrahan dismisses the citing of Act 188 in the DPS policy statement, but it is actually crucial to understand that Act 188 of 1982 created the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), in the current format. (A current, amended copy is posted on PASSHE’s website, www.passhe.edu). Act 188 affirms that PASSHE is a Commonwealth agency, and that the system schools are therefore also agencies of the Commonwealth.
Last year, House Bill 40, commonly referred to as the “Castle Doctrine” was passed by the Commonwealth Legislature, and signed into law by Governor Corbett as Act 10 of 2011. Part of Act 10 amended Section 6109(m.3) of Title 18, so that it now reads, in part: (m.3) Construction.–Nothing in this section shall be construed to:… (2) Authorize any Commonwealth agency to regulate the possession of firearms in any manner inconsistent with the provisions of this title.
This new language is very important because Section 6109 of Title 18 is the set of laws pertaining to how to obtain a Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms (LCTF). Other laws within Title 18 and Section 6109 also describe prohibited persons (felons and others who are not legally allowed to possess firearms), as well as prohibited areas (areas where otherwise lawful possession of a firearm is illegal). It is notable that outside of a partial prohibition on firearm possession on the property of primary and secondary schools, there is NO law in the Commonwealth against the possession of firearms on a Commonwealth (or private) college or university campus. The legislature has now made it quite clear that it is not the place of WCU, a Commonwealth agency, to create additional rules not currently found in law.
It is my belief that the West Chester University administration is exceeding their legal authority under Act 188, and that the policy prohibiting lawful carry of firearms is in direct violation of the recently modified language of Section 6109. Further, any policy that would levy university sanctions is just as unlawful, and needs to be re-evaluated. If one is legally able to carry a firearm off-campus, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to bring their firearm onto campus.
I have attempted to confirm the status of WCU’s weapons policy, in light of the recent changes in law, and have been mostly ignored. I was advised the policy would remain in effect while WCU and PASSHE officials “discussed” the matter. That has been the only contact I’ve had from WCU, and it was over two months ago.
I’m really not trying to start a debate about carrying firearms. The decision to carry a firearm for self-protection is a very personal one, and many people have strong opinions on this subject. All I’m asking for is that WCU no longer be “different” than other places I visit and spend time at. I feel as if I am clearly allowed to decide on my own if I choose to carry a firearm on campus under current law in the Commonwealth. I’d like to ensure that I am able to make that decision without fear of any reprisal from the University, potentially compromising my education and enrollment status, and without having to choose the security of my education over my personal safety and security.
Jon Blatman is a fourth-year student majoring in Health Sciences. He can be reached at JB754491@wcupa.edu.