News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 7, 2012

Updated Indiana State weapons policy goes before Trustees soon

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State University has proposed changes to its weapons policy to more clearly spell out what is prohibited on campus.

The proposed changes to the Code of Student Conduct will go to the Board of Trustees when it meets Dec. 14. The board is expected to approve the changes to go out for public comment, with final action early next year.

The current ISU weapons policy prohibits the use or possession of a firearm “or object used as a weapon, dangerous chemical or explosive.”

Bill Mercier, ISU police chief, said the changes are designed “to make things more explicit and clearer than they were before. … It doesn’t really change too much substantively.”

The revised weapons policy would prohibit use or possession of a weapon of any kind while on university property or in a university-owned vehicle, regardless of whether the person is licensed to carry the weapon.

“This includes weapons in briefcases, purses, personal vehicles or in other personal property or effects. University sanctions will be imposed on offenders and, if appropriate, criminal charges may be filed.”

The proposed changes define weapons, although it is not an all-inclusive list. Firearms can include handguns, shotguns, rifles, tasers, electronic stun guns, machine guns or pellet guns.

Explosives can include bombs, grenades, blasting caps or other containers that hold explosive substances.

It also lists other items that could be used to cause harm or “the fear of harm,” including knives, brass knuckles, tear gas, chemical substances, clubs or chains, compressed air guns (such as for paintball ) or replicas/toys.

An exception is for small, personal pocket knives with folding blades that are less than three inches long.

  Also exempt are legal chemical-dispensing devices, such as pepper spray, sold commercially for personal protection, “as long as its use is consistent with personal protection,” according to the revised policy.

ISU police and other law enforcement officers are exempt from the weapons prohibition. Another exception is for use of “equipment, tools, devices and materials” authorized by university employees as a condition of employment or class enrollment.

Craig Enyeart, interim director of ISU’s office of Student Conduct and Integrity (SCI), said that office has researched and written the proposed changes. Staff have looked at weapons policies from other universities across the nation.

Since the start of the academic year, SCI “has had numerous questions regarding guns, knives, [M]ace, pepper spray, tasers and other weapons,” he wrote in October as part of an explanation of the proposed policy changes. “During these discussions, the students have brought forward the concern that the current policy concerning weapons does not provide enough information.”

Many students have questions about what is an appropriate knife size, or whether the policy covers a gun locked in their vehicle.

Recent events have proven students are unaware of the expectation ISU has of them when it relates to “weapons” and what “weapons” mean, Enyeart wrote.

“Everyone understands you can’t have a gun” on campus, Enyeart said in an interview. But many have questions when it comes to such things as pocket knives, Mace or pepper spray.

Having pepper spray for personal protection is not a violation, he said, but there have been situations where students have used it and sprayed it around residence halls — not for personal protection.

“We want to address those” situations, he said.

As far as “toys or replicas,” Enyeart noted that some of them, including toy guns, “closely resemble the real thing and add to the atmosphere of fear.”

If someone pointed that fake gun at another person, that other person wouldn’t necessarily know it’s fake, he said.

An incident involving a student that goes before SCI “will cause a conversation,” Enyeart said. Depending on the circumstances, it might not be a violation of policy, “but it would be something we would address.”

The goal in clarifying the weapons policy is to inform students “so they know what to expect before they get in trouble,” he said.

The changes will be incorporated into the Student Code of Conduct section of the University Handbook.

In late August, a shooting occurred on an ISU parking lot at Ninth and Chestnut streets. One person, a former ISU student, was killed, and two other people were injured. The alleged shooter was an ISU student (suspended after the shooting).

That shooting “wasn’t necessarily a factor” in the policy revision, Enyeart said, but it “brought light to it.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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