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Concealed on campus: Universities consider state's new concealed-carry law

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Kevin Hoffman
July 31, 2011
— Wisconsin’s public universities and colleges have three months to determine how they will welcome the state’s new concealed-carry law, which will allow licensed students to carry guns on campus.

The law signed by Gov. Scott Walker on July 8 takes effect Nov. 1. The UW System has an administrative code that bans dangerous weapons from all campuses, but the state law will nullify it.


UW System spokesman David Giroux said the Board of Regents has not yet developed a new policy guiding chancellors and their handling of the law. Until then, colleges and universities are on their own determining whether to accept concealed carry or ban weapons from some or all buildings.


UW-Whitewater and UW-Rock County are discussing how they will handle firearms on their campuses.


“We are still reviewing the law, and no decisions have been made yet,” said Jeff Angileri, UW-Whitewater spokesman. “We will work with UW System legal staff for guidance on what restrictions can and cannot be placed on firearms on campus.”


The county owns UW-Rock County’s facilities. Spokeswoman Carrie Hermanson said the county’s attorney is drafting a policy for how public facilities will be managed, and the college is awaiting those guidelines.


She expects those to be completed by mid-August.


“I don’t know that we’ll have everything in place by Nov. 1,” she said, “but we’ll have a clearer picture in the next few weeks.”


Rep. Steve Nass, chairman of the state Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities, co-authored the bill. The last time legislators tried to approve concealed carry, he said, they created a list where weapons would be prohibited.


That list was so extensive that lawmakers this time decided to let universities, churches and businesses make their own decisions.


Prohibiting weapons from campus facilities could create a whole new set of challenges for institutions.


The law permits banning of guns from facilities but not campus grounds. That mean licensed holders would be forced to leave them at home or in their vehicles.


It isn’t clear what carriers could do with their guns if they don’t have a secure spot to leave them, but those kinks can be worked out along the way, Nass said.


If it becomes a problem, he said, legislators could amend the bill with a solution.


Another potential issue is posting signs. The law requires that a prohibition include no-firearms signs at every entrance to every facility where guns are not allowed, and the university must pick up the cost.


The alternative is allowing licensed carriers to roam freely throughout campus. It’s too early to tell how many students would take advantage of the new law.


One of the requirements to earn a license is be at least 21 years of age. UW System statistics show that nearly one-third of all students are 19 or younger.


“It’s going to be very limited on those that actually go out and get a permit,” Nass said. “With a 5.5 million (state) population, I remember the last time we figured 2 percent of those eligible to get a (license) would do that. It’s not like everyone is going to have a weapon.”


Some people hope universities will allow complete access for concealed-carry students.


Alton James, Wisconsin director for the national group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said it’s their constitutional right, and it could help deter crimes on campus.


Criminals who want to possess firearms on campus will do so regardless of the law, he said. James believes the law could put guns into the hands of those who intend to use them responsibly, protecting otherwise helpless people.


“There are a lot of things that happen on campuses, and campuses have been a target for a long time of people that want to do harm to others,” he said. “This (bill) is a big step in the right direction as far as people being able to defend their rights and themselves in Wisconsin.”


James said he received calls from two colleges in Wisconsin—one private and one public—asking questions about how the law could affect them.


Giroux said most chancellors and officials he spoke with indicated they would establish some sort of prohibition. It’s unclear whether that means all or just some facilities across individual campuses.



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