The debate over gun control and access on college campuses was at an all-time high as a “Campus Carry” bill was passed into law in Tennessee on May 2 but rejected in Georgia the very next day. In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam let the controversial bill become law, but his counterpart in Georgia took the opposite approach. The bills were proposed in several states following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, in which a 28-year-old student fatally shot an assistant professor and killed eight classmates on October 2015.
In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the state’s proposed bill, HB 859, rejecting the argument that guns would make colleges safer. The measure would have allowed anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun on college campuses – except for dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses and athletic events, according to a CNN report. The Republican governor asked the General Assembly to exempt on-campus day care centers, university disciplinary hearings and faculty and administrative offices, but the assembly failed to address his requests.
“If the intent of HB 859 is to increase safety of students on college campuses, it is highly questionable that such would be the result,” Deal said in a statement. “From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed. To depart from such time honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists.”
The Tennessee Law
In Tennessee, the SB 2376 Campus Carry bill allows full-time employees to bring concealed handguns on campus, but forbids students from carrying guns. The employees must notify law enforcement beforehand and possess a concealed carry permit, according to the Washington Post. Handguns are also banned in stadiums, gymnasiums, hospitals and meetings discussing disciplinary or tenure issues.
“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,” Gov. Haslam wrote in a letter to the House and Senate Speaker. “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.”
Campus Safety Magazine reported that the bill was opposed by many members of the higher education community Tennessee, with some employees threatening to leave their jobs if it passed. At the University of Tennessee, faculty President Bruce MacLennan conducted a poll and found that 87 percent of faculty strongly disagreed that “allowing guns on campus is in the best interest of the campus community.”
Tennessee joins eight other states that now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The other states are: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
The Debate Over Campus Carry Laws
Those in support of Campus Carry laws say citizens have a right to defend themselves against deadly force and potentially save lives – especially during a mass shooting when every second counts – coupled by the inability of police to be immediately at the scene of the crime.
Opponents believe that allowing concealed weapons on campus could create a false sense of security, may result in unintended shootings/killings, and potentially opens the college to significant liability. They also argue that concealed-carry permits offer no assurance that the holder is conscientious and responsible about firearms safety and training.
Such is the opinion of self-proclaimed “gun guy,” Lt. John Weinstein, an active shooter response trainer who is responsible for teaching tactics to patrol officers. In the Campus Safety article, “Should we allow CCP Holders to Carry Guns on Campus? 11 Reservation of a ‘Gun Guy,” Lt. Weinstein addresses many concerns regarding carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) on campus.
Although he was inclined to support Campus Carry laws, Lt. Weinstein believed that armed citizens, including those with military training, may not be well prepared to use a firearm in a life and death situation.
In the article, he wrote: “I came to the conclusion that the possession of a CCP and even firearms training received by many in the military do not ensure the ability to appropriately use firearms to protect life and limb in a college setting.
“This is not to say there aren’t many serious and capable CCP holders who have adequate training. The point is there is no assessment protocol, short of having colleges and universities assess individual CCP citizens,” he said.
Strong supporters of the Campus Carry Laws include the national grassroots organization, Students for Concealed Carry – a special-interest group that was formed the day after the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007 that claimed the lives of 32 people. The group comprises some 40,000 members including U.S college students, faculty, staff and others who support allowing citizens with concealed carry permits to carry concealed handguns on college campuses for self defense.