Weapon–Free Higher Education Zones Bill Passes in Maryland House of Delegates

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 81-54 to pass the Weapon-Free Higher Education Zones Bill after amendments were made in the bill’s third reader.

The original bill would have prohibited the possession or carrying of “firearms, knives, and deadly weapons.” After amendments were made, the bill would only prohibit the possession or carrying of firearms.

The law does not apply to law enforcement officers, off-duty and retired officers in good standing, persons hired to guard university or institution property, persons involved in organized shooting activity for educational purposes, or for persons who are required by the institution to be armed.

Officials from Frostburg State University and the University System of Maryland System testified in support of the bill, which is now in its first reader in the Senate.

FSU Police Chief Cynthia Smith testified in support of the senate’s bill on behalf of the university on March 9.

“SB 906 with amendments would essentially codify what is currently FSU policy on weapons on campus,” Smith said. “It’s up to the judicial branches of government to deem guarantees under the 2nd Amendment. As I testified, if passed into law this would give us another tool to use in keeping the campus safe.”

FSU spokesperson Liz Medcalf said that the university, “supports the bill as long as it includes a provision allowing for the flexibility to fit FSU’s current policy, which bars deadly weapons from campus except for those that are registered and stored with University Police (generally hunting weapons). An amendment to that effect, which is included in the attached testimony, has been introduced to the Senate version of the bill.”

FSU has already enacted campus-specific policy banning the possession of weapons. The university’s policy booklet states, “Possession of firearms or potentially dangerous weapons or explosives is not permitted on university property unless they have been properly registered and secured with University Police. Any potentially dangerous weapon including, but not limited to, a rifle, pistol, hunting knife, bowie knife, martial arts weapons, crossbow, and live ammunition, must be registered and deposited with University Police.”

Andy Clark, the University System of Maryland’s Assistant Vice Chancellor for Government Relations, also testified on the bill. In his testimony, Clark said that the system would support the bill, as long as an amendment was passed to allow people to possess firearms on campus if they are “required or authorized by policies of an institution of higher education to possess a firearm, knife, or deadly weapon.”

This amendment was passed in the house.

Garrett and Allegany County Delegate Wendell Beitzel voiced opposition to this bill during a meeting with Frostburg students on a visit to the Maryland State House. Beitzel said that the Constitutional right to bear arms should not be violated.

Senator George Edwards, who represents Allegany County, opposes the bill. He said that the issue should be handled by the USM campuses.

Ethan West, president of Frostburg’s College Democrats and Political Director for College Democrats of Maryland, voiced strong support for the bill. “The Weapon-Free Higher Education Zones Bill is one of, if not the most important bill involving Maryland’s colleges and universities this General Assembly session,” he said. “Our colleges and universities must be the safest possible environments for students and faculty alike, and this bill makes sure that safe environment is preserved. I commend the efforts of all of the legislators sponsoring this bill, hope for its easy passage through the legislature, and call on the Governor to sign it if and when it reaches his desk.”

Taylor Schmitz, President of Frostburg’s College Republicans, said, “While I think safety on the campuses of higher education is a necessity and a pressing issue, I do not believe that this bill is the best way to create a safe environment.  HB 1002 simply undermines our Constitutional right to a firearm and self protection.”

“Current law allows Universities and Colleges to use their own discretion regarding firearms on campus; this is specifically designed for law abiding citizens who have a wear and carry permit,” he added. “This bill would strip law abiding citizens of their fundamental right to self protection. If we truly want to stop gun violence we need to band together to focus on the real issues such as mental health.  Far too often our lawmakers pass legislation that sounds great in thought, but simply fails in practice.”

At press time on March 25, SB 906 had not reached its second reading. This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

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