In Tennessee, Professors Can Come to Class Armed With Knowledge -- and Guns
By Richard Locker
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 the bill 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 two legislative sponsors of the bill said Monday they appreciated the governor's action, even if he didn't sign it, and said they believe it will make public colleges safer.
"I think it's a good bill and I think it will enhance campus safety," said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the Senate sponsor. "I appreciate the governor recognizing that myself and the House sponsor did work with the UT and TBR (Tennessee Board of Regents) systems and accepted some of their amendments, which I think made it a better bill."
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. "It's not my intention to do so immediately. But if someone else did, I'd support it. These are adults. We need to stop talking about college students as children. They have the same constitutional rights as others. I think that's an important next step.
"My intention is to eliminate all gun-free zones, whether it's the Legislature or a college campus," Holt said.
Bell said he expects a student-carry bill to be filed next year but that he won't sponsor it.
University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro said UT'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. To us, the governor's position of allowing the two higher education boards to decide for themselves gun policy for their campuses would have been ideal.
"But we recognized early in the process that the bill had a great likelihood of passing. We went to work with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and our colleagues at the Tennessee Board of Regents on attempts to try to craft some sort of amendment to maximize campus safety in the event of passage. That measure is that university employees who intend to go armed must notify their campus police departments," DiPietro said.
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."
(c)2016 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)