Tennessee Approves Guns On College Campuses

by CARIMAH TOWNES –

armed on campus

Without widespread approval from its student leaders, regents, or police, Tennessee just empowered full-time staff and faculty to carry firearms at public universities and colleges. Following months of heated debate about how to keep schools safe, Gov. Bill Haslam allowed Tennessee’s General Assembly to expand campus gun rights without his signature.

A bill to arm employees was first introduced last January by Sen. Mike Bell (R) and Rep. Andy Holt (R), who argued that firearms on campus could bolster security measures. Beginning July 1, at least 27,000 employees will have that option, if they are licensed gun owners. Guns will not be allowed in stadiums or gyms, medical and mental health facilities, or meetings about discipline and tenure. But as long as they let local law enforcement know that they plan to carry, employees will mostly have free rein at higher education institutions statewide.

Haslam refused to sign off on the bill, saying in a statement that schools should devise their own plans to improve campus safety. Nevertheless, he allowed it to become law on the grounds that it was amended to accommodate grievances that opponents of the legislation had. For instance, schools will not be liable for monetary damages, and police will be able to track who has firearms on campus.

“Ultimately, this legislation was tailored to apply to certain employees in specific situations,” he said. The law specifies where guns are not allowed, but does not identify the specific situations in which employees can or should use their guns.

Bell claims the law will keep students safe from mass shootings, citing the massacre at Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Oregon — which killed 10 people, including the shooter — to support his bill. But UCC does not ban guns on campus, and at least one person on campus had a concealed handgun at the time of the shooting.

Indeed, multiple studies have debunked the “good guy with a gun” myth, which claims that allowing more guns in public spaces will help people defend themselves against bad guys with guns. On the contrary, where there are more guns there tend to be more homicides. Schools that allow firearms on campus receive more gun threats than schools that ban guns. And a study of 29,618,300 people who experienced a violent crime found that less than 1 percent of them used or threatened to use a firearm in self-defense.

Citing similar findings, student governments and top administrators across the state vehemently opposed the lawmakers.

“I feel like adding more guns, especially to a place of higher learning, just interferes with the process of being able to learn in a comfortable environment,” the student president of Austin Peay State University told the Tennessean. “(I’m) a gun owner and shoot for sport, and it just comes to a place where you have to draw the line on the argument that more guns means more protection.”

Police chiefs also slammed the bill, arguing that it would actually impede officers’ ability to perform their duties and endanger responding officers.

“I and one of my colleagues at Roane State have reached out to our local FBI trainers,” one chief testified before House Civil Justice Subcommittee. “They agree we will no longer be able to follow the National Model developed by the FBI which is the first officer goes towards the sound of the threat. This will drastically slow down our responses when literally every second matters.

Bell said the law enforcement officials’ claims were “unfounded,” but the Tennessee Board of Regents followed law enforcement’s lead and opposed campus carry before the bill was introduced.

“TBR strongly and consistently opposed the legislation to allow guns on our campuses for that reason,” Chancellor David Gregory wrote Tuesday, in response to the new law. “Our police chiefs and public safety officers will face greater challenges when responding to emergency situations with the complexity this law adds to their responsibilities.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress