The University of the Totally Disarmed:

Many universities ban firearms, but some research I've been doing reveals that some universities ban firearms and stun guns and chemical defensive sprays, either in dorm rooms or in the university as a whole. This basically leaves students entirely without any defensive weapons, and also has the effect of disarming dorm residents when they go off campus property, since they have no place to store the defensive weapons when they're back on campus.

This strikes me as quite shocking, especially with regard to women students who are in the age range where the danger of rape is at its highest. The university basically leaves them as sitting ducks, unless they're willing to violate the university policy. Even if the university tries to compensate by offering a good deal of on-campus policing (some do and some don't), it surely can't protect the students when they leave campus.

Some of the universities I've found that do this are Cornell, Duke, NYU, Hofstra, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth (though perhaps only limited to "carrying" rather than possessing in a dorm room), Bridgewater State College (likewise possibly limited to "carrying"), and University of Maryland-University College, but there are many more. Here is the explanation from Cornell for its ban (Cornell confirms that the policy remains in place today):

[P]epper spray still falls within Campus Code of Conduct language which makes it a violation to "possess, carry, or use firearms, ... ammunition, explosives, or other dangerous weapons, instruments, or substances in or upon University premises." Even though a person might possess a permit to carry a gun in the city of Ithaca, that person is not permitted to carry the gun at Cornell. Similarly, even though New York state law permits the carrying of pepper spray within the state in general, carrying this substance is not permitted on the Cornell campus.

Some people in the community may feel that this reading of the Campus Code of Conduct denies them a legitimate means of protection. While pepper spray can provide a means of protection, certain other facts indicate its limitations. Those facts include:

  • Pepper spray canisters are unreliable in cold weather.

  • If sprayed into the wind, the effects intended for the assailant can instead affect the victim, rendering the victim even more helpless than she or he was originally.

  • Pepper spray may be lethal to those with asthma or other respiratory problems.

  • Use of pepper spray for any purpose other than self-defense (for example, as a prank) — or use of the spray against a police officer — constitutes a criminal offense. Even lawful use of pepper spray may result in legal action against the user if a medical emergency results.

One of the biggest concerns is that people will place unjustified reliance on pepper spray and will forget other safety precautions that may provide even greater security. Those precautions include:

  • Walk in well-lit areas with a friend.

  • Keep car keys accessible at all times.

  • If you must walk alone, walk with a strong, confident stance.

  • Carry a whistle, and use it or yell if confronted or attacked.

  • Educate yourself on self-defense techniques.

Lovely: You might overrely on pepper spray, and you might misuse it (though of course people can misuse "self-defense techniques" as well). So we won't let you have any defensive weapons at all, and instead suggest — as our first suggestion — that you instead limit where you go, and ask for protection from others (whether by walking with them or yelling for help).

In Massachusetts, by the way, the state bill of rights begins with, "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties ...." I know of no caselaw on the subject there, but there are many court decisions in other states interpreting such constitutional provisions as in fact securing an individual right. What happens to the right to defend life and liberty of students at Bridgewater and University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth students? It's reduced to (in the words of the Bridgewater policy) the right to "stay aware of their surroundings and perhaps even learn self-defense."

UPDATE: I originally noted that the Cornell explanation was of 1997, and I wasn't sure whether the Cornell pepper spray ban was still in effect — I e-mailed the Cornell people about it, and they've confirmed that it is indeed in effect. I've updated the post accordingly.