TN Gov. Haslam lets guns-on-campus bill become law without his signature

Gov. Bill Haslam, center, announces the creation of a task force to propose ways to improve access to health care in Tennessee Tuesday, April 12, 2016, in Nashville. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, right, said she began conversations with health policy experts at Vanderbilt University's medical school after lawmakers rejected the Insure Tennessee proposal last year by Haslam. At left is Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville.

NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he is allowing the guns-on-campus bill to become law without his signature.

The bill, Senate Bill 2376, allows full-time faculty, staff and other employees of Tennessee's public colleges and universities who have handgun-carry permits to carry their guns on campus - but they must notify the local law enforcement agency with primary responsibility for security on their campus - the campus police, for example.

The governor said in a letter to the House and Senate speaker that he prefers to let campuses make their own decision.

He said: "I am letting SB 2376 become law without my signature. I have long stated a preference for systems and institutions to be able to make their own decisions regarding security issues on campus, and I again expressed this concern throughout the legislative process this year. Although SB 2376 does not go as far as I would like in retaining campus control, the final version of the bill included input from higher education and was shaped to accommodate some of their concerns.

"Ultimately, this legislation was tailored to apply to certain employees in specific situations, it provides protection from liability for the institutions, and it requires notification of law enforcement before carrying on campus. I hope that as a state we will monitor the impact of this new law and listen to the feedback of higher education leaders responsible for operationalizing it."

The bill does not allow students, including those with permits, to go armed on campus, as some states have allowed. However, a separate bill approved earlier this year and signed by the governor prohibits state colleges and universities from taking "adverse action" against students and employees with permits for transporting or storing a gun or ammunition in their parked vehicles on campus.

SB2376 requires campus employees with permits to carry their guns concealed, even though Tennessee's handgun-carry permit law allows open and concealed carry.

The bill prohibits the employees from carrying their guns in arenas and stadiums when public events like football and basketball games are underway. And they cannot carry guns in meetings in which their job performance or tenure is discussed.

The bill won Senate approval 28-5 on April 19 and House approval the following day on a 69-24 vote.

Proponents of the measure argued the legislation is necessary to provide additional safety on college campuses.

Opponents, including police chiefs, students and a significant number of faculty members at the University of Tennessee, said the legislation would not actually make the campus safer and would complicate how law enforcement handle active shooter incidents.

The bill goes into effect July 1, but it gives law enforcement agencies with jurisdictions over each campus authority to develop and implement policies and procedures regarding the law's requirement that employees notify law enforcement of their intent to go armed, and to offer voluntary courses or supplemental firearm training to employees who elect to go armed.

The House sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said he is pleased Haslam "is allowing this bill to become law and fulfilling the wishes of the 109th General Assembly and Tennesseans in general.

"The purpose of running the bill is campus safety. It's not an effort to create an armed battalion on campus but to allow individuals to protect and defend themselves," Holt said.

Holt also said he believes the "important next step" is to allow students to go armed on campus, as well.

"My intention is to eliminate all gun-free zones, whether it's the Legislature or a college campus," he said.

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro said the school's "position has been and continues to be that we do not support, as a general premise, any measure that would increase the number of guns on college campuses other than already are allowed by law."

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini criticized the governor's action.

"By allowing guns to be carried openly on college campuses Governor Haslam is defying all common sense, ignoring the opposition of faculty and staff, and jeopardizing the safety and well-being of students. Campus police chiefs have also opposed this legislation vehemently so the only conclusion to be made is that the governor and the Republican supermajority who passed this horrific piece of legislation only care about the gun lobby and their wealthy donors."

Contact Richard Locker at or 615-255-4923.