Weapons policy challenged at IUP

A Civic Project story

Indiana University of Pennsylvania student Rita M. Cramer holding her 40-caliber, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield pistol at an off campus apartment in Indiana, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Photo by Lynette Larssen.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania student Rita M. Cramer holding her 40-caliber, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield pistol at an off campus apartment in Indiana, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Photo by Lynette Larssen.

By Lynette Larssen and Mackenzie Winebold

INDIANA — Rita M. Cramer, 21, an interior design major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, exercises her Second Amendment right every day. During the fall 2016 semester, the exercise included carrying a concealed pistol to class four days a week.

Cramer’s weapon is a 40-caliber, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, a 6-inch, one-pound, stainless-steel-and-polymer model with a capacity of up to eight bullets. She conceals it in the small of her back in a holster clipped to her waistband.

She carries it for the personal safety described on the permit she recently acquired at the Indiana County Courthouse.

“Self-defense is what it says on my permit,” Cramer, of Indiana, said in a Nov. 29 interview at an off-campus apartment. “I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. And I refuse to be a victim of a violent act.”

Cramer holsters her weapon in the waistband of her jeans. Photo by Lynette Larssen.

Cramer holsters her weapon in the waistband of her jeans. Photo by Lynette Larssen.

Her practice complies with campus weapons policy, as summarized in a paragraph on the university’s campus-housing website for frequently asked questions –- the link listed first in a university-website search for “campus guns policy.”

The policy states: “Neither firearms nor other weapons are permitted anywhere in IUP residence halls or apartments.” The policy says nothing about carrying weapons on campus property beyond residence halls.

But a more restrictive expression of the policy is buried in the university’s annual security reports. Page 71 of the Dec. 1, 2016, report lists student conduct that is “expressly prohibited” and “the responsibility of each student to become familiar with.”

Cramer’s 40-caliber, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. Photo by Lynette Larssen.

Cramer’s 40-caliber, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. Photo by Lynette Larssen.

On Page 74, item number 12 prohibits:

“… possession and/or use of any weapon, which is any object used to inflict a wound or cause injury. This includes but is not limited to: possession and/or use of firearms, ammunition, knives, swords, nun chucks, stun guns, BB guns, look-alike weapons, or explosives, such as fireworks, unsecured compressed air cylinders, or dangerous chemicals, except as authorized for use in class, in connection with university-sponsored research, or in another approved activity (provisions may be made to store firearms with the University Police).”

The prohibition implies blanket application university-wide. But questions seeking clarification of the university’s conflicting weapons policies went unanswered. IUP Police Chief Kevin Thelen, whose office produces the annual safety reports, was emailed on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17 to request interviews and clarifications. Thelen did not respond.

Instead, messages were referred to the university’s public-relations office. University spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling responded to one message by restating the campus-housing weapons policy word-for-word in an e-mail.


CRAMER IS ONE of nearly a thousand armed students at IUP, an estimate drawn from survey data gathered in an unscientific Facebook poll conducted between Nov. 17 and Nov. 30. The poll asked a single question: “Have you ever carried a gun on campus?”

The question was posted to the groups IUP Class of 2017 and IUP Class of 2018. Both Facebook groups are closed — only members of the two cohorts could respond to the question. Cramer was among the respondents.

Of 5,695 possible respondents, 80 answered the question (a 1.4 percent response rate). Six respondents – 7.5 percent — said yes, they have carried a gun on campus.

If 7.5 percent of the 12,853 students enrolled at IUP during the fall term carried weapons, then 964 students may have been armed in class or elsewhere on campus, outside of residence halls.

Meanwhile, campus firearm-policy violations are increasing, according to campus police in their latest IUP Annual Security and Fire Safety Report covering calendar years 2013-2015. In 2013, police reported four “referrals” – violations handled administratively instead of judicially. In 2015, the latest year for which data are available, police reported eight referrals, double the number two years earlier.


CRAMER HAS COMPANY among IUP students. Criminology major Luke Wisniewski, 21, of Pittsburgh, has been a gun owner for two years and has had his carry permit for a year.

Wisniewski said the right to carry a firearm should not end at a campus property line.

“It is a legally protected right,” Wisniewski said in a Nov. 17 email interview. “I honestly feel comfortable knowing that people around me are conceal-carrying or open-carrying for that matter.”

Wisniewski said he rarely leaves his house without his Smith & Wesson M&P 9 handgun or his Glock 26 and would carry them on campus if permitted.

IUP student Luke Wisniewski's Smith & Wesson M&P 9. Photo by Emilee Larkin.

IUP student Luke Wisniewski’s Smith & Wesson M&P 9. Photo by Emilee Larkin.

“I would conceal-carry on campus not only for my sake and safety, but for the safety of those around me as well,” said Wisniewski.

Cramer echoed Wisniewski and said she is undeterred by campus regulations and prohibitions.

“If a situation like what just happened at Ohio State a few weeks ago, or Virginia Tech, or even Carriage House were to happen near me, I would be prepared to defend myself and those classmates around me,” Cramer said.

Lynette Larssen, of Lancaster, Pa., and Mackenzie Winebold, of Curwensville, Pa., are senior journalism and public relations majors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Emilee Larkin contributed reporting.


Sidebar: A guy walks onto a college campus carrying a gun …

INDIANA –- On Sept. 28, Indiana University of Pennsylvania email accounts received an unusual message. The subject was “Firearms and ‘Open Carry’ in Pennsylvania.” The sender was “IUP Public Safety Police.”

The email read, in part:

“If an open carrier of a firearm approaches you, you are not obligated to listen to or engage in any conversation. If you feel threatened in any way by an individual that is openly carrying a firearm, please call the police. If you have further questions related to this topic, please feel free to contact University Police.”

The invitation was not honored. Repeated efforts to contact university police for elaboration went unanswered or were referred to the campus public-relations office in Sutton Hall. The university’s spokeswoman recited the university’s policy on weapons. (See main story, above.)

Meanwhile, rumors circulated. One narrative described an unidentified, white, middle-aged male roaming the Oak Grove with a rifle slung over a shoulder. In other versions, the weapon varies, a music group and band director are present, a verbal confrontation ensues, and so on.

In an interview two months after the email, campus police Lt. Douglas D. Campbell said no police report was filed since no offense was committed. He provided no details about the purported event.

However, other reports have emerged from off-campus sources.

Indiana borough police Officer Leroy D. Anderson confirmed that he and a fellow officer responded to a late-September complaint from workers at the Hadley Union Building, which houses the Student Cooperative Association and is adjacent to but not on university property.

Anderson said Pennsylvania’s open-carry law allows the man to walk through the HUB with a firearm, and there is nothing police can do. Anderson added that the armed man declined to identify himself. His demeanor “was nothing out of the ordinary.”

However, one HUB employee, who asked not to be identified out of concern for his employment, agreed that the armed man was cooperative when HUB employees asked him to leave the premises. But the HUB employee said the armed man became combative with the police officers as they escorted him out of the building through a dining area.

Anderson, the borough police officer, theorized that the Sept. 28 campus-police email was sent not as an “incident report” but rather as a public notice of the open-carry law.

Some students expressed unease.

“I still do not feel safe with the law allowing guns to be carried, especially because of the recent finding of a student with a gun walking around campus,” said Courtney Diane Lee, a senior marketing major.

“IUP takes forever to notify students when a threat is on campus,” said Allyson Brooke Kendall, a junior biology major. “I find out quicker through social media than the actual campus alert system. And this is concerning to me.”

Madison Sebastian and Nicole Arabia contributed reporting.


Sidebar: The Sept. 28 email from IUP police

Following are the header and text of a Sept. 28 email from Indiana University of Pennsylvania police to email accounts campus-wide. Addressee Kevin Thelen is chief of campus police.


From: IUP Public Safety Police
Sender: univ-emp-faculty@iup.edu
Subject: Firearms and “Open Carry” in Pennsylvania
Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:03:09 -0400
To: Kevin Thelen

“Open Carry” is a term referring to the right of law abiding citizens 18 years of age or older to display their firearm in public spaces without the need for a permit.

Individuals openly carrying may be looking to engage others in a constitutional or statutory debate or discussion about the topic, may be prepared with a pre-planned series of questions to test an individual’s understanding of the law and may even record the contact for placement on various social media sites.

The IUP Department of Public Safety strongly discourages approaching any individual openly carrying a firearm in an attempt to opine about your personal feelings related to firearm ownership or the carrying of firearms in public.

If an open carrier of a firearm approaches you, you are not obligated to listen to or engage in any conversation. If you feel threatened in any way by an individual that is openly carrying a firearm, please call the police.

If you have further questions related to this topic, please feel free to contact University Police.


Sidebar: PaSSHE, IUP weapons policies: Provisions may vary

Perhaps half of 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities have quietly allowed guns on campus after the state’s lawyers three years ago decided that outright bans probably wouldn’t withstand court challenge on Second Amendment grounds.

In 2013, PaSSHE began wrestling with the new legal realities. The chairman of the system’s Board of Governors, Guido M. Pichini, released a statement public statement on May 10 of that year:

“PASSHE universities can prohibit weapons, including legally registered firearms, in academic buildings, student residence halls, dining facilities, student union buildings, athletic facilities and recreation centers or while attending a sporting, entertainment or educational event on university property or sponsored by the university. However, PASSHE’s policies also must be consistent with Pennsylvania law, which allows individuals who are properly permitted to carry a firearm on or about one’s person or in a vehicle throughout the Commonwealth.”

In 2014, PaSSHE officials began debate on a blanket weapons policy. But they gave up and made no plans to adopt a policy later.

At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, one of the 14 PaSSHE campuses, weapons policy appears to be presented in two forms –- public and prominent and not so much. (See main story, above.)

Moreover, campus authorities have not responded substantively to questions about apparent conflicts in the policy statements. Meanwhile, IUP police have restricted the flow of information about campus violations, according to mid-October reporting by the student newspaper The Penn and the local daily The Indiana Gazette.


Sidebar: For more information

For more information about weapons rules, regulations and laws and their enforcement on and around the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus, contact the following official sources:

Kevin Thelen
University Police
University Towers 850 Maple St.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-2141; (724) 357-3201
Fax: 724-357-2104
Email: Kevin.Thelen@iup.edu
Web: http://www.iup.edu/police/

Lt. Douglas D. Campbell
University Police
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
University Towers
850 Maple Street
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-2141
Email: dcamp@iup.edu

Office of Housing, Residential Living, and Dining
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Ruddock Hall, Suite G-37
1099 Maple Street
Indiana, PA 15705-1075
Phone: 724-357-2696
Fax: 724-357-5762
Website: http://www.iup.edu/housing/

Office of Student Conduct
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Ruddock Hall, Suite G11
1099 Maple Street
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-1264
Fax: 724-357-1242
Web: http://www.iup.edu/studentconduct/

Michelle S. Fryling
Office of Communications & Media Relations
Sutton Hall 316
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-2302
Email: michelle.fryling@iup.edu

Indiana Borough Police Department
William C. Sutton
80 North Eighth St.
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: (724) 465-6691
Fax: (724) 463-4177


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One Response to Weapons policy challenged at IUP

  1. Jared says:

    I stopped reading this at the section on the Facebook student survey. The author needs a refresher on the term Self-Selection Bias and what constitutes a representative sample.

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