Keeping Students Safe — in College, Too

Postsecondary & Workforce

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This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that explore state efforts to improve school safety through legislation, initiatives, task forces and more. This series aims to inform state efforts to make schools and higher education institutions safe places to learn and work. If there is more information we can provide or technical assistance we can offer, please contact us.

While the conversation around school safety often centers on K-12 campuses, colleges and universities — and their leaders — face the same challenges and concerns. From 2000 to 2017, about 150 people were injured or killed by an active shooter on a postsecondary campus. And in the last two years, state policymakers introduced more than 80 bills that addressed guns on college campuses.

In this most recent wave of legislation, states sought to clarify:

  • The rights of current and retired law enforcement officers to possess firearms.
  • The role and duties of campus police officers.
  • The rights of an institution to allow faculty or staff to possess firearms.

While far more pieces of legislation died than were enacted (just five), policymakers’ conversations on the failed legislation are an important part of the larger picture of continued efforts to keep students safe. For example, states considered, but did not pass, legislation that would have:

  • Allowed postsecondary institutions to prohibit firearms entirely or on certain parts of campus.
  • Barred postsecondary institutions from creating policies that would prohibit firearms on campus.
  • Addressed permissible storage of firearms on campus.
  • Permitted firearms by certain employees of the college or university.

These are issues that education leaders at both the institutional and state levels will continue to confront and debate, and they are issues we’re capturing in our 2019 State Education Policy Watchlist. As bills are introduced or vetoed, we update that status online and include summaries when enacted.

Our new Policy Snapshot also captures legislative activity in the last two years that addresses guns on campus, which highlights the nuances of this ongoing policy debate. Additionally, “Guns on Campus: The Architecture and Momentum of State Policy Action” offers a detailed look at court rulings, legislative action and higher education system policy decisions that allow or prohibit firearms on campus.

Just as states work to ensure safe schools, they are also working to ensure safe colleges and universities so, no matter the educational institution, it is a safe space for all students to learn.

For a national perspective on postsecondary campus safety policies, consult our 50-State Comparison examining laws addressing sexual assault and firearms possession. 

Author profile
Policy researcher at Education Commission of the States | berwin@ecs.org

As a policy researcher, Ben works on tracking legislation, answering information requests and contributing to other policy team projects. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, he taught high school social studies in Kentucky and worked in education policy at the National Conference of State Legislatures. He earned a master's degree in education policy from the University of Colorado Boulder and a bachelor's degree in history and education from Transylvania University.

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