UTC students express concern over proposed bill allowing firearms on campus

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Students walk through campus at UTC between classes on Nov. 17, 2021.

Some University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students say they're wary of a new bill that would allow adult students with carry permits to bring firearms on campuses and to other public spaces.

"I think it's a terrible idea," said Sarah Anderson, a UTC student. "There's already a lot of violence on campus and, specifically, just in Chattanooga as a whole."

Tennessee Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, introduced Senate Bill 0827 this month. The proposed legislation would delete the prohibition on carrying firearms and other weapons on college campuses and in public spaces such as parks.

Adults who have a legal permit to own and carry a firearm would have the right to carry their weapons on campus under Hensley's proposed bill. The law would apply to all private and public higher education institutions such as universities and colleges.

(READ MORE: Tennessee settles lawsuit over 18- to 20-year-olds and guns)

Hensley cited instances of assaults on women and other acts of violence on college campuses as reasons why he believes students should have the right to carry firearms on school grounds.


"Students walk between buildings at night and to the parking lots," Hensley said by phone Friday, "and they just need to be able to defend themselves."

Anderson said she recognizes the dangers present on college campuses but said she doesn't think students having firearms will make the campus environment safer. Anderson said having more guns on campus will make some students feel unsafe as they could face a higher risk of violence.

"Walking at night as a woman is already scary enough," Anderson said. "Allowing guns just adds to that paranoia that's always there for minorities and people who are more oppressed."

Madison Vinson, also a UTC student, said recent shootings at schools should be reason enough for the bill to not become law.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable with (students carrying firearms)," Vinson said, "because some students would abuse that power of being able to have a gun on them at campus. It could escalate when it shouldn't."

(READ MORE: What does Tennessee's new permitless carry gun law mean for you?)

Vinson said lawmakers should consider the consequences the proposed bill would have on students' lives.

"You never know what will happen," Vinson said. "I would not feel comfortable with a student my age carrying a gun on campus."

Hensley said he understands the criticisms of his bill but that those who would use firearms to commit acts of violence will do so regardless of the law.

"(Criminals) don't go by the laws anyway," Hensley said in a telephone interview. "So if we make (the bill) a law and somebody's carrying a gun and uses it to commit a crime, that person would've probably carried the gun anyway."

UTC Police Chief Robert Ratchford declined to comment on the proposed bill but encouraged people who have strong feelings for or against the bill to contact state legislators.

Hensley's proposed bill is not the first of its kind to be introduced recently.

Last year, Gov. Bill Lee signed a "permitless carry" bill into law that allows most Tennesseans over the age of 21 to carry a firearm, open or concealed, without the requirement of undergoing state criminal background checks, firearms training or demonstrating competency with firearms. Recent litigation will likely extend the "permitless carry" law to Tennesseans 18 or older after the state agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a California gun rights group that said the age restrictions of the law were unconstitutional.

Contact Sam Still at sstill@timesfreepress.com.