ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House of Delegates approved legislation Tuesday that would ban guns from the campuses of public higher education institutions, a measure critics say deprives some students of their right to defend themselves.
The proposal, which passed by a vote of 81-54, is supported by the University System of Maryland and includes exceptions for law enforcement officers and some educational activities such as historical reenactment. It also gives campus presidents the discretion to grant exceptions to the law, a provision system officials felt was needed to make sure off-duty officers can attend classes and hunters at schools like Frostburg State University can continue to store weapons with campus police.
The bill does not apply to private institutions.
College and university policies generally forbid having firearms and other deadly weapons on campus, but bill supporters, including Del. Ben Barnes, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, the lead sponsor in the House, said changing the law would make those provisions permanent and give them more teeth by adding a criminal penalty.
Violating the proposed law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
The bill drew opposition from Republican delegates such as Meagan C. Simonaire of Anne Arundel County, who worried that some students would be left vulnerable to attackers. Simoinare proposed an amendment that would have made an exception to the law for people with permits to carry a concealed firearm and letters from the Secretary of the State Police declaring that their lives were in danger.
“For example, someone who’s been raped, and the person who raped them is still out there,” Simonaire told The Daily Record. “It’s for people who are actually being stalked.”
Maryland law already gives these people the ability to carry guns for their protection, and that shouldn’t be taken away on a college campus, Simonaire added.
“Even if they ever have to use it, it’s a sense of security for a young woman who’s had someone rape her or stalk her,” she said.
The amendment failed, as did several others proposed by House Republicans last week. Simonaire said she believed supporters of the bill had their hearts in the right place and wanted safety for all students but were ultimately making some students less safe.
The bill must now be approved by the Senate, where it has the support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.