Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass puts politics ahead of student safety

Recently in Spokane, Wash., two Gonzaga University students living in an off-campus, university-leased apartment used a gun to defend themselves from forced entry by a recently released 6-time convicted felon. These students are now on probation from Gonzaga for possessing weapons on school owned property in violation of the student code of conduct. It is worth mentioning the students were properly licensed.

Xiaoxiao Hu/ Collegian

Many here would not be surprised to know that the University of Massachusetts has a similar policy in the student code of conduct, but they may be surprised to know that the policy is broad and can be understood to even include pepper spray.
As a founder of the UMass Gun Club, which has helped numerous students obtain their licenses to carry firearms as well as pepper spray, I am convinced that the University is putting politics ahead of student safety. I understand that it is not realistic for the University to allow students to carry firearms on campus.

Pepper spray, however, is something I expect there to be more universal consensus on. Chapter 269, Section 10J of Massachusetts General Law prohibits the carrying of any weapons on school grounds without the explicit permission of the school. However it also grants the school administration the ultimate authority to make any exceptions they see fit.

Currently, Massachusetts is one of the only states where one needs a license to possess or carry pepper spray. Following the murder of Amy Lord in South Boston last summer, a bi-partisan bill has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means in order to change this. While many UMass students are licensed to carry pepper spray or firearms (which include pepper spray), it is likely that many others, in violation of both state law and the student code of conduct, carry pepper spray without a license.

Along with two other instructors from the UMass Gun Club, I met with the Vice Chancellor’s office last semester to discuss making an exception for pepper spray. It makes me upset to say that politics have been put ahead of our safety as students. The answer we were given was that making a legal exception under Massachusetts law would first require them to amend the student code of conduct regarding weapons, which they are unwilling to do, even in a very direct and limited capacity which would only allow defensive sprays. The Vice-Chancellor’s office later told me that UMass has never made an exception to the rule as it currently stands.

Since the University of Massachusetts has put politics ahead of your safety, you face two separate penalties if caught with pepper spray on campus. First, you will be in violation of Massachusetts General Law (C269S10J) and will face up to a year in jail and a $1000 fine. Next, you will be in violation of the student code of conduct regarding weapons, and could face expulsion.

The UMass campus is generally very safe, but under this rule you cannot have pepper spray if even if you work in local cities such as Holyoke and Springfield, which are among the most violent in the state. If you take the bus to campus, you also may not carry pepper spray from your home. The student code of conduct may also extend to vehicles parked on campus.

I encourage you to ask a police officer if it’s a good policy for you to be forbidden from carrying pepper spray on a campus with a population of more than 20,000,,into neighboring violent cities or even into downtown Amherst late at night. Even given my involvement in the field, I have yet to find one who can. It was just a few weeks ago that a UMass student was assaulted late at night in Amherst.

While there is anecdotal evidence of pepper spray possibly having lasting effects in extreme circumstances, they are rare, and can be compared to the thousands killed annually in the United States from fists and feet. Pepper spray is a concentrated natural compound, and is generally considered safe.

Students can change policy by making noise. It is time to say enough is enough, and that as adults we want a school policy that allows us to defend ourselves both on and off campus. It needs to be clear as day in writing that UMass students are allowed to carry pepper spray to protect themselves without punishment. The University absolutely has the power to make this happen, but it is up to us to convince them that it is the right thing to do.

Michael Ball is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • M

    Matthew RyderNov 19, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Well written, Mike. If students are interested in carrying pepper spray on campus, and they are properly licensed, the UMass Police Department has been known to give written permission to carry it on campus. I can’t say for sure that the new police chief supports this effort as I have never met him, but I know of a few students (now graduated) who simply sent an email asking for permission and were given it with no questions asked.

  • D

    DefenseNov 19, 2013 at 12:22 am

    An incisive piece that reveals the shocking extent to which the school administration will ignore common sense policy that will improve the safety of students, all for the sake of holding a political position. This callus disregard for the wellness and security of the very students that pay for the chancellor’s paycheck is repugnant.