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EWU discontinues gun storage service

Eastern Washington University is no longer providing gun storage for students and others, mostly because it lacks enough space and personnel to accommodate the growing requests, but also due to liability concerns.

“We made that decision based on the resources that I have available,” said EWU police Chief Tim Walters, explaining that it required extensive check-in and checkout procedures each time a firearm was either dropped off or picked up.

“But in the back of our head we also wondered about things like … who knows what might have just happened in this person’s life.”

Wanting to free resources and avoid the possibility of turning over a firearm to a potentially unstable individual, this fall the university became the first higher-education campus in the state to discontinue routine weapon storage services. The Evergreen State College in Olympia limits weapon storage to short-term holding only.

Because guns are prohibited on most college and university campuses nationwide, with exceptions made for commissioned law enforcement officers, many schools offer storage services for students who live on campus.

Eastern had long been among them.

But over the summer, as Walters and others at the university evaluated the increasing requests for storage services and the amount of time required to document and verify legal eligibility, the decision was made to end the practice. Notices were sent to students who use the service.

Walters said there’s more to storing weapons than simply taking down a name and locking the gun in a closet. The department must verify the identity of those who drop off guns, determine their eligibility to legally possess them and check to see if the weapons have ever been reported stolen. When students arrive to pick up their guns, the department must verify they are who they claim to be and check again to determine they’re still eligible to possess firearms.

“We don’t want to be in the position of inadvertently storing stolen property,” the chief said. “And we don’t want to be in the position of handing over a firearm to someone who shouldn’t have it.”

That process takes time, Walters said, and because many of the students storing guns at the department were hunters, they would arrive early in the morning to get their guns before heading into the woods and then drop them off late at night, which often pulled the only officer on duty off patrol and into the station to handle the verification process.

Washington State University still provides gun storage services, as does North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. In Idaho, students also have the option of carrying handguns in class and elsewhere on campus if they possess a certain type of concealed weapons permit.

In Cheney, the number of EWU students living on campus who used the storage service fluctuated from 20 to 30 at a time. Most stored hunting rifles and shotguns, Walters said, but in recent years the department also was asked to hold AR-15-style assault rifles and handguns.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Gonzaga and Whitworth universities offer firearms storage for students.
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