Not all colleges are interpreting provisions of New York’s new SAFE Act the same way.
It was recently reported that Syracuse University, which owns the 2,500-acre Pack Forest Demonstration Area in Warrensburg, and the 2,800-acre Dubuar Memorial Forest adjacent to SUNY college of Environmental Science and Forestry’s (ESF) Ranger School in Wanakena, will no longer allow people to hunt the property with firearms.
This is because a provision in the New York State Penal Law, section 265.01 a, now makes it a class E felony to possess a firearm “...in or upon a building or grounds, used for educational purposes, of any school, college, or university, except the forestry lands, wherever located, owned and maintained by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF).” Formerly possession of a firearm on school property was a class A Misdemeanor.
While there is clearly an exemption for SUNY ESF land, and the land in question is maintained by the ESF, the land itself is owned by Syracuse University. After consulting with their counsel, officials of Syracuse University decided that since they were the ultimate owners of the property, the exception did not apply to them.
Officials at Paul Smith’s College interpret the law differently.
“There’s nothing in the SAFE Act that prevents a college from allowing a student to store a firearm on a campus,” said Phil Fiacco, Director of Campus Safety at Paul Smith’s. “The law preventing students from having firearms on a campus has been there for a while, that wasn’t new with the SAFE Act. It doesn’t allow a student or anybody to bring a firearm onto a college campus without the permission of the administration of the college.”
Paul Smith’s has long allowed students to bring firearms to campus in the fall semester, for the purpose of hunting. Firearms are turned in to campus security, and students pick up the firearm when they are ready to hunt, returning it at the conclusion of their hunt.
Fiacco estimates that the college has between 150 and 200 firearms in its armory.
And while students are barred from actually hunting on campus, they are allowed to hunt on much of the colleges extensive forest land. When they register their firearms, they are given a map of lands which are being utilized for educational activities, and lands which aren’t. They are allowed to hunt the latter.
“Because Paul Smith’s College has 14,000 acres of land, we have a hunting map, and students are allowed to utilize certain areas, certain college properties, to hunt,” Fiacco said. “That has been the policy, and it won’t change at all with the SAFE Act.”
New York State Police Senior Investigator Chris Keniston said the wording of the Penal law section hasn’t changed under the Safe Act, just the grade of crime. He said it has long been illegal to possess a firearm on a college campuses, but he said there are exceptions in the law.
The first exception is if the administration has granted written permission to an individual to possess a firearm on school property. The second is that the possession has to be in an area not used for educational purposes.
Paul Smith’s, he says, is legal in allowing firearms on certain college owned lands.
“If it’s just land that they own and it isn’t being used for educational purposes, and they have written permission, they are okay,” says Keniston.
He said that he was unfamiliar with the specific property owned by Syracuse University, and couldn’t comment on their case.
Hunters on those parcels are still allowed to utilize the property to bowhunt.