Firearms and Weapons Policies
Is there a place for guns on your college or university’s campus? This is not a question for the timid. Opinions are strong, and many state legislatures are weighing in. Since 2013, increasing numbers of states have passed legislation allowing guns on public post-secondary campuses. Some laws broadly allow concealed carry; some include moderate restrictions; and others give institutions the ability to opt-out or use discretion about allowing concealed guns on campus.
Your institution should have a policy that directly addresses the possession and use of firearms and weapons on campus. Your policy should clearly state:
- The policy’s purpose
- To whom the policy applies
- Any restrictions on the use of weapons
Guidelines for Drafting a Firearms and Weapons Policy
When drafting or revising your policy:
- Involve a multidisciplinary committee. Include input from campus law enforcement or public safety representatives, administration, legal counsel, student affairs, counseling and psychological services, campus medicine, faculty, and students. If your institution has multiple campuses, consider whether each campus needs a specific policy.
- Work with legal counsel to analyze state law. Determine requirements and possible exclusions. If your institution wishes to have exclusion zones, ensure that a defensible rationale exists for each zone. Carefully review requirements for state or federally owned buildings.
- Clearly state that the policy applies to all segments of your campus population. This includes students, staff, faculty, and visitors. Broad coverage allows campus safety officials to enforce the policy easily and effectively without first having to determine whether it covers a certain person.
- Include specific definitions for all weapons. This includes knives, crossbows, explosives, and fake weapons. The policy should address the use of pellet, plastic, or other such guns, as community members may not realize they fall under the policy.
- Identify sanctions or discipline for policy violations. Leave room for flexibility based on a case-by-case review. Exceptions should be made on a case-by-case basis when designated campus officials deem them necessary. Typical exceptions include campus safety officers, other law enforcement officials, and students involved in specified institution-sponsored activities such as ROTC or hunting clubs.
- Encourage off-duty police officers from other jurisdictions to notify campus officials if they expect to carry firearms on campus. Generally, states allow police officers to carry their firearms in any jurisdiction regardless of whether the officer is on duty.
- Work with campus law enforcement or public safety to develop explicit procedures for handgun storage options or requirements. Typically, these are separate from the firearms policy. Many institutions have gun lockers in the campus safety offices, which allow for proper storage and prevent unauthorized students from gaining access.
- Include a statement about liability (if doing so is allowed under state law). Explain that concealed carry is allowed due to state law, not as a proactive decision by your institution.
- Educate the campus community and all campus visitors about the policy. The policy must be published in all student and employee handbooks and should be publicized on your website and in postings around campus. Significant signage may be necessary to properly alert visitors to the policy requirements. Where permissible by law, implement mandatory or voluntary training for employees and students on the weapons policy and on procedures for safe handling and storage.
About the Author
Christine McHugh, Esq.
Senior Risk Management Counsel
Christine’s areas of expertise include employment law, sexual assault prevention, protection of minors, traumatic brain injury, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Before joining the Risk Research team, she handled UE liability claims for several years. She previously practiced employment and higher education law.