Actually, West Chester University is in violation of two constitutions—the Pennsylvania Constitution and the federal Constitution. The problem is West Chester University’s gun policy which says that “it shall be prohibited for anyone to possess or control weapons, firearms or dangerous devices at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.” This policy is justified because guns on campus serve “no legitimate purpose,” except perhaps to defend oneself against a deranged gunman, rapist, or mugger who is violating the gun ban. The WCU gun ban is an “attempt to reduce the possibility of injury to the campus population,” which makes sense because the people who wish to harm the campus population with a gun (which is also against the rules) are likely to nonetheless follow the gun policy. Shooting someone is one thing but violating WCU’s gun policy, well, that’s going too far.
The real problem is not the silly reasoning used to justify this ban, it is the blatant fact that the WCU gun ban is unconstitutional.
WCU asserts that their no-guns-allowed policy “complies with West Chester University of Pennsylvania President’s authority under Act 188 to adopt policies governing the use of institutional facilities and property, and to do and perform those things necessary and required for the orderly operation of the institution.” Well, I don’t know what Act 188 is and, quite frankly, I don’t care. Whatever it is it isn’t above the state and federal constitutions as this would be logically impossible since the federal Constitution is accepted as the highest law of the land.
Furthermore, it sounds as if WCU’s gun laws are, in fact, in violation of even “Act 188” because banning guns from being carried on campus by properly licensed and responsible adults (of which I am one, by the way) is in absolutely no way whatsoever “necessary” or “required” for “the orderly operation of the institution.” Oh wait, I forgot that the same mature, responsible, law-abiding, and licensed adults that carry their guns with them on a daily basis to locations all around the state without incident will all of a sudden get violent tendencies the moment they step foot on WCU’s campus. That’s my bad. However, the ban is still in violation of the state and federal constitutions.
It’s like this: the Second Amendment of the federal Constitution says that “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and the Pennsylvania Constitution says “the right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.” I would summarize the key points but how much clearer could it possibly get?
West Chester University, being a state-owned institution, is not allowed to infringe on the constitutional rights of faculty, staff, and students. In fact, WCU is apparently required to tolerate religious fanatics who come on campus and ramble on and on about the Bible (usually in front of Main Hall—the guy has been there a few days already this semester) without convincing anybody to embrace their dogma. WCU must also tolerate the religious fanatics who come every so often and say mean and ignorant things about gay people.
Now, going back to the mysterious “Act 188,” it seems as if the president of the university should have the authority to prohibit some of these activities because, anyone who has ever been present when that “Repent” group comes with their anti-gay signs and everything else that goes with their brand of bigotry, knows that the “orderly operation of the institution” is undermined. No such effect on the “orderly operation of the institution” would occur with a gun policy in line with the constitutions. But due to constitutional constraints on government suppression of citizen speech, WCU and other government owned college could never get away with censoring speech, even by invoking “Act 188.”
While a private college may have some room to impose limits on speech and other such rights that are protected by the state and federal constitutions, WCU and the other state universities enjoy no such flexibility. The government owns WCU so therefore the constitutional rights of citizens cannot be curtailed on campus. Free speech, as a constitutional right, is actively protected on government owned universities. The Pennsylvania constitution says “The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the invaluable rights of man, and every citizen may freely speak, write and print on any subject…” and the federal Constitution says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech… or of the people to peaceably assemble…” So why is the right to free speech protected on public university campuses while the right to bear arms (which is, as I have shown, spelled out just as, if not more, explicitly in the state and federal constitutions) is not?
The bottom line is that WCU’s gun policy is unconstitutional. West Chester University, as a government owned institution, cannot infringe on the constitutional rights of faculty, staff, and students. The right to keep and bear arms for self-defense is a constitutional right. Therefore, West Chester University cannot infringe on the rights of faculty, staff, and students to keep and bear arms on campus. Since WCU’s gun policy infringes on these rights it is unconstitutional much in the same way any policy prohibiting free speech would be.
Since it is indisputable that the federal Constitution says “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and the Pennsylvania Constitution says “the right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned,” it follows logically that West Chester University must allow members of the campus community to keep and bear arms on campus since this is unquestionably a constitutional right and WCU is required to uphold constitutional rights of faculty, staff, and students. I know this is getting repetitive but the administration here at WCU and too many other universities just don’t get it so it is necessary to say it many times, many ways so that maybe they will finally understand.
As strong as the constitutional argument against WCU’s gun policy is, the practical argument is perhaps even stronger and more meaningful. If WCU did not ban guns on campus, the only people legally allowed to carry a gun on campus would be people 21 years of age or older that have obtained a valid license to carry firearms, which are only issued to people of good moral and legal character. Only the same people who carry their guns other places without incident would be legally allowed to carry on WCU’s
campus. Such people are statistically much less likely than a citizen without a license to carry firearms to commit a gun crime. Opponents of a gun policy in line with the constitution will try to mischaracterize the debate by saying people like me want to “allow college kids to carry guns,” as if we want to hand a gun to every freshman when they come on campus.
It is important that law abiding adults have the right to defend themselves on campus. Unsecured “gun-free zones” would be funny if they weren’t so deadly. A “gun-free zone” didn’t stop the Virginia Tech shooting or a variety of other college campus shootings. A crazed gunman intent on mass murder (which is against the law) is not going to be deterred by a campus gun ban. Furthermore, a gun ban is not going to stop a rapist or mugger or any other type of criminal from using a gun to attack a member of the WCU community. Temple University has a “gun-free” campus. If it worked then nobody would worry about being attacked by someone with a gun on that campus, despite the neighborhood it is in. “Gun-free zones” serve only to disarm the people who would not commit a gun crime while doing nothing to prevent those that wish to use a gun for evil from bringing it on campus.
It is my hope that the gun policy here at WCU, which is blatantly unconstitutional and thus illegal, will immediately change so that it is compatible with the federal and state constitutions. If the administration refuses to change the gun policy then they should submit an op-ed justifying the gun ban in light of the arguments I presented.
Bill Hanrahan is a fourth-year student majoring in political science and philosophy. He can be reached at WH750431@wcupa.edu