ORONO (AP) – The University of Maine is one of a handful of schools nationwide that provides a place where students can store their weapons.

The university has a designated spot at its Department of Public Safety where hunters, marital arts enthusiasts and others who live on campus must keep their weapons.

“I was surprised to hear about the gun room,” said Tyler Alexander, 20, a hunter from of Richmond, Vt. “I didn’t think the university would be that accommodating. It’s very convenient.”

A 2003 nationwide poll of 150 schools showed that UMaine is one of only 11 schools that has storage facilities for guns on campus, according to Alliance for Justice, an association of advocacy organizations.

Slightly over 4 percent of U.S. college students own firearms, according to a recent Harvard University study. Only 1 percent of UMaine students living on campus, or 40 to 50 a year, store guns at the department, university officials said.

The gun room now is filled with hunting rifles and longbows in camouflage carrying cases. Students sometimes hand over more exotic items, including paintball guns, swords, and martial arts weapons.

Public safety officers do not recall students ever checking in handguns. Students may retrieve their checked weapons at any time, day or night.

“During hunting season, students come in early,” Public Safety communications supervisor Charles McInnis said Tuesday.

To pick up a weapon, students present their claim tag and photo identification to a public safety attendant, McInnis said.

If students want to keep their weapons close at hand, they have no other option. University policy prohibits students from keeping or using weapons, including firearms, BB guns, bows, rockets and slingshots anywhere on campus, or in vehicles driven on campus.

Students caught with unchecked weapons face stiff penalties and could be expelled.

The weapons policy was developed more than 20 years ago as part of a set of commonsense safety rules for residence halls, according to Dean of Students Robert Dana. It overrides any concealed weapons permits that either students or staff possess.

Campus officials think the policy has helped the university maintain a low rate of on-campus weapons offenses. There have been none since Jan. 1, 2002, according to officials.

“Luckily, gun use on campus is not a problem. We don’t want it to be a problem, and wouldn’t accept it were it to become a problem,” Dana said. “We would look upon it very dimly if there was a gun in the residence halls.”

It is no surprise that a university located close to hunting and fishing country counts many sportsmen in its student body, Alexander said.

He hunts ruffed grouse and snowshoe hare in the woods near Passadumkeag with his 20-gauge shotgun and loves the beauty of the woods and the camaraderie and challenge of hunting.

“Here in Maine and northern New England, the hunting tradition is very strong,” he said. “This gun-check system allows students to continue that heritage in a very comfortable way.”

AP-ES-09-03-04 0216EDT

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