Developing concealed-carry policies for campuses

After deciding not to allow concealed weapons on campus, Clark State Community College strengthened its security procedures. (Photos: Clark State)

In states that allow concealed weapons on campus, many community college presidents have undertaken lengthy feedback-gathering sessions to develop a policy.

That’s according to Matt Franz, vice president of information technology at Clark State Community College in Ohio. Franz, who oversees safety and security at the college, wrote his doctoral dissertation on that topic and will discuss his findings at an April 30 session at the American Association of Community Colleges’ Annual Convention in Dallas.

Two college presidents, Jo Alice Blondin of Clark State and Daniel Barwick of Independence Community College in Kansas, will provide their perspectives at the session.

Confusing laws

Thirty-three states have laws allowing people to bring concealed weapons to colleges and universities. Some of those states allow colleges to opt out; others do not. Sixteen states prohibit concealed carry on college campuses.

Franz’ dissertation looked at 12 community colleges in Kansas, Texas, Mississippi and Wisconsin that recently enacted concealed carry laws. Each state in his study handled the issue a little differently.

Registration deadline: April 13 is the last day to register online for the AACC Annual Convention April 28 to May 2.

In Mississippi, for example, people need a certain level of training and must pass a background check to obtain a concealed carry permit. Some colleges interpreted that to mean they have the leeway to ban concealed weapons, Franz said. Colleges in Kansas cannot prohibit people from carrying concealed weapons unless the college can provide a certainty that no one has a gun. That means they would have to install metal detectors and guards at every building, something most colleges don’t have the resources to provide.

Two-thirds of the presidents surveyed by Franz said the laws enacted in their states are confusing. Some state laws give discretion to colleges to declare parts of campus gun-free zones, such as childcare centers and performance venues, but also gave the caveat that you cannot have so many gun-free zones that it’s generally prohibitive.

Feedback is critical

Ohio’s law, enacted in March 2017, gives colleges the discretion to decide whether or not to allow concealed handguns on campus. Blondin advised faculty and staff of the new law via email, surveyed the entire campus, hosted open forums, briefed the board and sought opinions from the faculty, staff and student senates.

“The decision rested with the board of trustees, but I wanted to get as much information as possible from people on campus on how we should approach the issue,”  Blondin said. “We utilized our shared governance system in a way that was incredibly inclusive and respectful to everybody’s opinion.”

The three senates voted against allowing concealed carry, and in the end, the board decided to retain its current policy, which bans weapons on campus.

An alert system helps Clark State Community College maintain a safe campus.

Through the information gathering process, college leaders learned most people supported stronger security measures as an alternative to concealed carry.

Clark State used a $750,000 state grant to establish an alert system that notifies people of any kind of emergency via phone, computer, in public spaces and in classrooms. The system was used this month for a tornado warning.

Any time a college needs to formulate a policy on a controversial issue, “make sure the entire campus has input and understands the rationale for the decision,” Blondin advised. In this case, “everybody felt their voices were heard.”

Opposing views

According to Franz, supporters of concealed weapons have expressed two main arguments: The Second Amendment protects the right of people to have legally obtained weapons and, in light of the recent mass shootings, they feel more comfortable being armed and trained to defend themselves.

Those opposed to concealed carry on campus spoke about the need for colleges to focus on academic discourse and to discuss challenging topics in class without the fear of having someone pull out a gun.

Many of the presidents Franz interviewed for his study said they overwhelmingly spent more time and effort developing a policy on concealed carry policy than any other issue. One college received 1,300 online comments to a request for feedback.

Regardless of whether concealed carry is legal or not, more than 90 percent of the presidents in Franz’s study believe there are people on campus carrying guns.

Because it took so long for colleges to collect feedback and craft a policy, some presidents told Franz that by the time they had a policy in place, it was no longer a major issue. At one college, concealed carry wasn’t even in the top 10 issues discussed on campus.

“People now tend to say, it is what it is, and there’s not a whole lot of discussion or anger about it,” Franz said.

Convention schedule online: Check out the 2018 AACC Convention schedule to plan your days at the premiere community college event of the year!

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.