Guns on Campus: Overview

11/1/2019

In the wake of several campus shootings, the most deadly being the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University, states are considering legislation about whether or not to permit guns on college campuses. For some, these events point to a need to ease existing firearm regulations and allow concealed weapons on campuses. Others see the solution in tightening restrictions to keep guns off campuses.

In 2017, two states passed legislation to allow students and faculty to carry guns on college campuses, Arkansas and Georgia. Over the last five years, campus safety legislation has been a hot issue across the country. In 2013, at least 19 states introduced legislation to allow concealed carry on campus in some regard and in the 2014 legislative session, at least 14 states introduced similar legislation. Tennessee passed a bill in 2016, which permits higher education faculty to carry handguns after notifying local law enforcement. In 2015, Texas became the eigth state to allow concealed carry weapons on college campuses. In December 2016, Governor Kasich of Ohio signed into law SB 199 which lifts the ban on firearms on college campuses and leaves the decision to individual institutions. 

On the other hand, recent shootings also have encouraged some legislators to strengthen existing firearm regulations. In 2014, five states introduced legislation to prohibit concealed carry weapons on campus. None of these bills passed.

Concealed Carry Weapon Laws and College Campuses

All 50 states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons if they meet certain state requirements. Currently, there are 16 states that ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus: California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and Wyoming.

In 23 states the decision to ban or allow concealed carry weapons on campuses is made by each college or university individually: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Because of  recent state legislation and court rulings, 10 states now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses. These states are Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Not included in above list, Tennessee allows faculty members with licenses to carry weapons on campus but the law does not extend to students or the general public. 

Utah remains the only state to have statute specifically naming public colleges and universities as public entities that do not have the authority to ban concealed carry, and thus, all 10 public institutions in Utah allow concealed weapons on their property. Recently passed Kansas legislation creates a provision that colleges and universities cannot prohibit concealed carry unless a building has "adequate security measures." Governing boards of the institutions, however, may still request an exemption to prohibit for up to four years. Wisconsin legislation creates a provision that colleges and universities must allow concealed carry on campus grounds. Campuses can, however, prohibit weapons from campus buildings if signs are posted at every entrance explicitly stating that weapons are prohibited. All University of Wisconsin system campuses and technical community college districts are said to be putting this signage in place. Legislation passed in Mississippi in 2011 creates an exception to allow concealed carry on college campuses for those who have taken a voluntary course on safe handling and use of firearms by a certified instructor.

Recent court cases have also overturned some long-standing systemwide bans of concealed carry on state college and university campuses. In March 2012, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the University of Colorado’s policy banning guns from campus violates the state’s concealed carry law, and in 2011 the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the Oregon University System’s ban of guns on campuses, allowing those with permits to carry concealed guns on the grounds of these public colleges (Oregon's State Board of Higher Education retained its authority to have internal policies for certain areas of campus, and adopted a new policy in 2012 that bans guns in campus buildings). In both cases, it was ruled that state law dictates only the legislature can regulate the use, sale and possession of firearms, and therefore these systems had overstepped their authority in issuing the bans.  

For up-to-date information on legislation, see the Education Bill Tracking Database. Search under the topic "Postsecondary - Campus Safety."

Additional Resources