Citadel to let some cadets keep guns in cars

The Citadel campus file/staff

The Citadel has bowed to cadet pressure — and influence from Gov. Nikki Haley — and will allow cadets with concealed weapons permits to keep their personal guns in their cars.

The school’s Board of Visitors last weekend voted to suspend its code of regulations and instead will recognize state law that allows all state permit carriers to keep their weapons locked in their vehicles.

The move came after cadets last month used a speaking visit by the governor to get her to use her influence with school president Lt. Gen. John Rosa to make the regulation change.

Cadet Austin Lee, who originally confronted the governor during a speech at McAlister Field House, praised the decision in a group statement he issued with three other cadets Wednesday.

“We would like to thank all of the cadets and gun-rights supporters who made this change possible,” said Lee, a soon-to-be graduating senior. “It has been a long hard road, but we are ecstatic about today’s victory.”

Lee credited three other gun rights-supporting cadets — Kameron Hamlin, Evan Maes and Jake Moore — for the change but noted they will not be able to enjoy the outcome.

“We are senior cadets who will be graduating in two weeks,” they said. “We fought this policy because it was the right thing to do, not for personal gain. We hope our dedication to our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms will inspire others in similar positions to do the same.”

At the time of Haley’s visit last month, Lee told the governor that more than 1,100 cadets had signed a petition supporting the shift. They noted that Citadel policy conflicted with the state’s carry law that allows guns in cars as long as they are stored in a secure manner.

The issue was a word conflict between the school’s “Blue Book” of conduct and the state’s gun laws. According to the school code, “regardless of possession of a concealed weapons permit,” at no time may any personal firearm be stored in a personal vehicle parked anywhere on campus. That includes within the school fencing or parking areas nearby.

The regulation seemingly conflicted with state law covering concealed weapon permits. The law says that prohibitions on guns carried onto colleges, universities, technical colleges or other post-secondary institution campuses may exist. But they do not apply to a person who is authorized to carry a concealed weapon “when the weapon remains inside an attended or locked motor vehicle.”

Suitable storage includes a closed glove compartment, closed console, closed trunk or in a closed container secured and transported in the luggage compartment of the vehicle, according to state law.

School spokesman Brett Ashworth said the topic and wording that allowed the change was discussed in executive session by the board on Friday, before it was voted on and adopted Saturday.

Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, on Wednesday raised questions about the validity of the board’s actions since nothing on the board’s two days of meeting agendas refers to anything about discussing gun regulations as a topic.

Ashworth said the matter was discussed in executive session on Friday under the heading “update on pending legal matters.” He said it is the school’s legal stance that because the issue was discussed in executive session, and then voted on as an item Saturday, a more-specific listing or media notification wasn’t necessary.

Bender, however, said the agenda, as presented, is vague as to the gun question being a voting topic, making it questionable that the issue was properly handled out of a behind-closed-doors executive session. That makes the board’s authority to take such a vote inadequate under the state’s Freedom of Information Act law, Bender said.

A press spokeswoman for Gov. Haley, who has billed herself as a strong Second Amendment backer, said the governor supported the outcome of the gun effort.

“The governor appreciates Lt. Gen. Rosa’s willingness to listen to cadets and is happy to see the university adopt a policy, consistent with state law, that protects the rights of those who hold CWPs,” said spokeswoman Chaney Adams.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551.