Surprising things about Citadel gun regulations

The Citadel campus

When this business of allowing Citadel cadets to keep guns in their cars first surfaced, a lot of people had the exact same thought:

That’s going to make “Hell Week” a lot more interesting.

Think about it — knobs go through an intense, confrontational plebe year that is, frankly, hard for outsiders to understand. Some folks no doubt think any hotheaded fresh meat who gets his head dunked in a toilet might be inclined to retaliate — especially if he had a pistol nearby.

Even if that is the exact opposite of what plebe year is supposed to instill.

But that was the joke around Charleston after Cadet Austin Lee brought up the issue with Gov. Nikki Haley when she appeared on campus last month. Actually, he’d raised the same question with administration months before — and had a petition signed by half the Corps of Cadets.

At the time, however, the college had pillowcase-gate fish to fry, so Lee didn’t get an answer before he had the chance to turn this into news.

Officials at The Citadel say when Lee initially brought this up, they also thought about the potential for lethal hazing ... and any number of other potentially ugly scenarios. Of course they did. The men and women behind the Lesesne Gate are neither stupid nor naïve.

But after months of study, they ultimately decided they didn’t really have a choice.

Here is something that might surprise you: For years, The Citadel has had far stricter campus gun laws than other local colleges.

The College of Charleston and Trident Tech — even Charleston Southern University, a private school — allow concealed weapon permit holders to keep guns in their cars. C of C has little choice, since most of their parking is in city lots, which aren’t part of campus.

All of those places, however, will expel any student — permit holder or not — who takes their gun out of the car. Good idea. There have been more than enough campus shootings in recent years. Guns and schools don’t mix.

The Citadel Blue Book of student laws didn’t allow guns even in cars, however. And when the school’s attorneys looked into the contradiction between that and state law, they found that gun advocate groups in many states have won cases against schools that had laws that differed from the state’s concealed carry statutes.

So even if the school decided to go against our state’s nebulous concealed carry laws, it would have probably cost a lot of taxpayer money to reach this same outcome.

That doesn’t mean this idea doesn’t have other problems.

Retired Col. Tom Philipkosky, The Citadel’s vice president of operations and administration, says the military college will have to step up patrols in campus parking lots — and not because of students.

There has been an uptick in car break-ins in the neighborhoods around campus, and when word gets out that a lot of those cars parked outside of Johnson-Hagood might have guns in them, well, a lot of cadets are probably going to be shelling out money to fix jimmied locks.

Some school officials thought it might be nice to know exactly which cadets have concealed weapons permits, and guns in their cars, so they will know if any errant firearms end up floating around the West Side.

Or if any cadet having a particularly rough time is packing.

But that’s probably not going to happen. State law does not compel concealed weapons permit to out themselves. The school can ask, but the cadets don’t have to tell. Not The Citadel’s fault — that’s on our gun-happy lawmakers.

Who, incidentally, and hypocritically, won’t allow guns in their own place of business.

Citadel officials say any cadet who carries a gun onto campus is going to be subject to expulsion and state law violations, and they aren’t lax about enforcing rules there.

Now, you would think of all college students, Citadel cadets would be the most qualified to handle guns. Maybe. Yes, they carry guns in parade, but those don’t shoot. Outside of ROTC classes, they learn only how to take apart rifles, clean them and reassemble them.

But since 30 percent of cadets go into the military, it’s safe to bet most know a bit about guns.

Of course, even though this is something every other college already does, The Citadel is going to endure headlines over this because they are, well, The Citadel.

But rest assured, reports of the campus turning into a plebe year Wild West are greatly exaggerated.

Freshmen cadets are not allowed to have cars on campus — that’s strictly an upperclassman perk.

So no worries, Hell Week is not going to get any more hellish.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.