Research Post: “Protect from Potential Grizzlies”: How Local, State and Federal Concealed Carry Rules Apply to Libraries, Archives, and Museums

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from On-Call Research Team #1, which looks into real-time issues affecting archivists and archives. 

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

Proposed and already enacted concealed carry legislation in numerous states has spurred questions regarding policies for libraries, archives, and museums. What can – and cannot – individual institutions and organizations do regarding patrons and guns given their locally applicable bills? Concerns vary not just by state and institution type, but even by possible need for concealed weapons.  For example, Wyoming’s need for weapons in primary and secondary schools may be affected by the potential for grizzly bears nearby, a suggestion posed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

On American college campuses, various state rules apply to concealed carry. Four states allow guns on campuses, six states allow for guns on campus in restricted areas, 10 states allow campuses to choose, 10 states allow storage of weapons in vehicles, and 20 states prohibit guns on all campuses. Employment status can be a factor, as well. In Tennessee, although students can only store weapons in vehicles, faculty and staff are allowed concealed carry. While these variations only apply to college campuses, laws can be more convoluted with other institutions: public or federal buildings and state parks, for example. Since libraries, archives, and museums can be within public, state, corporate, federal, or college entities, we will all be affected by concealed carry laws differently.

Proponents for concealed carry argue that states that allow it on campuses, provide improved safety and that threats to the learning environment are false. These proponents argue instead that active shooter incidents such as the Virginia Tech massacre may have ended more quickly and safely with an armed student body on hand.

People working in libraries, archives, and museums voice concerns that guns can create more violence rather than less, but they are also concerned that concealed carry can limit free speech and introduces complicated security issues. Faculty and students may not safe practicing academic freedom under the new rules. In one instance in Utah, a feminist speaker backed out of a campus event after threats were made on her life and the Utah State University could not provide increased support for her safety. Concealed carry proponents believe that such situations can be mitigated and that the university could have provided better security, albeit at increased cost and intrusiveness of individual searches.

Another, more common example of security complications can be found in archives and manuscript repositories. They typically have patrons place bulky materials, such as jackets and bags, in lockers, but having patrons remove guns can violate state laws and possibly be illegal.

Many states have been in the news for legislation regarding concealed weapons on college campuses, which covers Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan, Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Texas. At the University of Texas at Austin, guns are restricted in its Tower area, due to the 1966 sniper attacks by Charles Whitman. Often, libraries are not included as restricted areas on college campuses. Some areas can be negotiated, but if a state wholly allows for concealed carry, then libraries and archives cannot create rules or policies that negate the relevant legislation. Virginia’s Richmond Public Library found this out when they posted that guns were prohibited and the Virginia’s Citizens Defense League (rightly) disagreed. After changing the rule to read that it was prohibited “except as permitted by the law,” the League still determined the language was not acceptable and protested.

Overall, it is the burden of each library, archives, and museum to determine what policies they are allowed to enact based on the laws and regulations of their state and the rules within their affiliated institutions. This poses issues for creating standards and for enacting and managing policies effectively. After all, your institution may need protection from a grizzly.

A bibliography is provided below. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and some articles may require a subscription.

All States





  • Annale Renneker, “Packing More than Just a Backpack.” Journal of Law and
    Education, vol. 44, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 273-282.
  • Jennifer Sinor, “Guns on Campus Have Already Curtailed Free Speech.”
    Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 61, no. 10., 2014 October 27. Accessed January 3, 2017.


Resources for understanding and tracking legislation


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