The state House of Representatives approved legislation last week which would allow police officers at Pennsylvania's state-owned universities to carry firearms.
House Bill 509, introduced by state Rep. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, would remove the discretionary language in state law that allows presidents of the 14 state-owned universities to decide whether officers may carry firearms. Under the legislation, approved Monday, all state-certified university police officers would carry firearms.
The bill passed 149-43.
"Firearms are a necessary tool that law enforcement officials use to protect and serve the public," Mr. Solobay said. "These men and women go through dozens of hours of training to become certified in the use of a handgun, so it only makes sense that they be allowed to use them in the course of their duties.
"Putting them on the street without the safety and security of a firearm is like sending a firefighter into a burning building without a fire hose. It just doesn't make sense and it's not safe for them or those they serve."
Mr. Solobay introduced the legislation at the urging of university police officers and officers who work for police departments in college communities. The legislation has been endorsed by several of the state's leading law enforcement organizations, including the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.
Four of the 14 universities do not allow their police officers to carry firearms at all times. Officers at Clarion and Lock Haven universities carry guns only during emergencies and with approval of either the chief of university police or the president. Indiana University of Pennsylvania and California University of Pennsylvania have unarmed officers.
Mr. Solobay said a 2003 state law allows police departments at state-owned universities to enter into mutual aid agreements with police departments in neighboring municipalities.
The Senate now must approve the bill.
"I'm hopeful that this bill will soon become law so that when students return to campus after the holidays, we can have our university police equipped with the tools they need to keep our students and themselves safe and more secure," Mr. Solobay said.