NASHVILLE — Professors and other full-time college and university personnel who have state-issued handgun carry permits could go armed on campus under legislation proponents believe will lead to greater safety.
Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, and Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said Thursday their bill is directed at preventing tragedies such as last month’s rampage at Northern Illinois University where a gunman killed five students and wounded 16 others.
Note: Sponsors intend to amend the bill and restrict it to full-time higher education employees who have state issued handgun-carry permits
“If they have the permit — and that means they’re trained and have been certified and everything’s OK with them — perhaps they could have remedied or limited some of the mass killings that took place. Perhaps not,” Sen. Bunch said.
The bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, but Sen. Bunch delayed it until next week.
Pointing to last year’s Virginia Tech shootings in which a gunman shot 32 people, Rep. Campfield said when “these people go on shooting sprees, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel because there’s no one there to defend themselves. We have campuses in Tennessee that don’t even allow their security personnel to carry a gun.”
He said if the bill becomes law, the legislation will “definitely” have a beneficial effect.
But the idea of armed college professors and other personnel is not going down well with University of Tennessee and Board of Regents officials.
“Our law enforcement officials are not in favor of that,” said Hank Dye, the UT system’s vice president for public and government relations.
Mr. Dye noted certified officers at UT campuses including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are armed. He said the “safety of our students is the highest priority we have, and they (campus law enforcement) don’t feel like that (legislation) enhances that.”
Mary Morgan, communications director for the Board of Regents, said the system opposes the bill.
“We really think the current situation is the safest for all concerned, that all guns are banned ... except for those in the possession of security police,” she said.
She said four-year universities have armed security but acknowledged two-year community colleges and technology centers “use security companies that don’t have commissioned personnel. So they’re not carrying guns.”
But Ms. Morgan said, “We believe local authorities are the best route for protection,” and she emphasized they maintain close relations with the colleges.
Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox, a former police officer, said, “Guns can go off accidentally. Guns can be taken away from people. Guns can be left unsecured. I just think in terms of public safety it might be a less safe environment.”
UTC Faculty Senate President Gavin Townsend said the idea of arming faculty or allowing faculty to be armed doesn’t make any sense.
“I can’t imagine many faculty would. I have heard no faculty ever say to me longfully, ‘Boy, I wish I could pack a gun,’” he said.
As originally drafted, the legislation would allow teachers and personnel at K-12 schools to bring weapons if they had gun permits. It also contains provisions allowing college or school officials to designate employees who could bring firearms provided they had training.
Sen. Bunch and Rep. Campfield said they intend to remove those provisions.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Web site, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama are among 10 states with active legislation that would let individuals with concealed-carry weapon permits to bring a weapon to college campuses.
On Tuesday, the House Criminal Practice and Procedure of the Judiciary Committee has eight bills on handgun permits to consider including the Bunch/Campfield legislation.
“I think we need to talk to the heads of the universities and not just be making a blanket edict,” said the subcommittee’s chairwoman, Rep. Janis Sontany, D-Nashville, of the bill.
HANDGUN CARRY PERMIT BILLS
Here are some of the proposals expected to come before the House Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee next week:
* HB 3014/SB 3014 — Authorizes full-time faculty and staff at colleges and universities who possess valid handgun carry permits to bring the weapons on campus.
* HB 702/SB 23 — Allows anyone with a valid handgun carry permit to bring a handgun into an establishment where alcohol is sold for consumption provided they do not consume alcohol.
* HB 3667/SB 3904 — Allows any resident with a valid handgun carry permit to possess his or her gun while within the boundary of any state park.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...