At least 360 full-time APSU employees may soon be able to carry concealed handguns on campus in accordance with a bill introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly in January 2016.
The bill, HB 1736 authored by Sen. Mike Bell from Riceville, Tennessee, would allow “Employees of any state college or university operating under the state board of regents or the University of Tennessee board of trustees [to carry a concealed handgun] if the employee is: authorized to carry a handgun and carrying the handgun only on property owned, operated or in use by the college or university employing the employee,” according to the bill.
Current APSU policy bans possession and use of rifles, handguns, replica/toy guns, BB guns, pellet guns, stun guns, knives and martial arts equipment on APSU property, according to APSU’s Student Code of Conduct.
Bell said his bill is needed because the police do not have the ability to protect everyone at all times, and he specifically cited the Oregon campus shooting in October 2015 as an example.
“I would disagree that a possible change in the law is not necessary,” Bell said. “It would allow people who are permit holders to defend themselves where the police cannot be right now and the police cannot be everywhere.”
APSU Student Government Association President Will Roberts has lobbied against Bell’s bill since its introduction.
“There’s a time and place for everything, and there’s neither a time nor a place for guns on this campus outside of campus security,” Roberts said. “When we see a campus police officer, there’s a level of respect there because we know they’ve been trained to use their weapons. Bringing guns into the classroom highly disturbs the learning environment.”
Roberts said TBR should look at alternative preventative measures when it comes to campus gun violence.
“If there was a situation where somebody had to use a weapon or was using a weapon on campus, campus police shouldn’t have to designate between a professor and someone who is trying to cause harm when they both have guns in their hands,” Roberts said. “That’s the big thing to me. So I think the state should put money into technology that can secure campuses at the touch of a button. There’s more ways to secure a campus than arming the staff.”
Chief of APSU Police Michael Kasitz said APSU’s police are professionally trained and the current system benefits because of this.
“APSU’s professionally trained police are trained by the state and provide a robust security to campus,” Kasitz said. “It is our opinion that this arrangement works well.”
Kasitz said APSU, as a school under the Tennessee Board of Regents umbrella, will certainly be affected by this bill if it passes, but he was not sure exactly how.
“It is difficult to determine how this will impact the university,” Kasitz said. “The administration at APSU is of the opinion that firearms do not enhance the freedom of thought or learning at a university campus.”
In order to receive a handgun carry license in Tennessee, applicants must be 21-year-old Tennessee residents with no prior felony offenses, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The full list of requirements and qualifications is available at www.tn.gov/safety.
In 2011, a bill similar to Bell’s, HB 2014, was presented in the Tennessee General Assembly. It was ultimately voted down, but it intended to, “authorize full-time faculty and staff at public colleges and universities in Tennessee to carry handguns if not otherwise prohibited by law,” according to Tennessee Capitol records.
Following HB 2014’s introduction, APSU’s SGA passed Resolution No. 8 in March 2011 that “opposed any legislation that would alter the current policy of APSU prohibiting guns on campus,” according to the legislation.
One of the co-authors of this resolution, previous Sen. Jesse Brewer, said during the March 16, 2011, SGA meeting that guns weren’t needed in the classroom because they disrupt education.
“There is no need for guns because there are police on campus,” Brewer said according to past SGA meeting coverage from The All State. “[Having guns in the classroom] will cause problems with academic freedom in the classroom. [Co-author Sen. Johnathan Jeans] and I are in favor of the current policy.”
Bell’s bill has been in and out of committees since its introduction in January, and it has been rolled without discussion or vote on at least three separate occasions on Feb. 9, March 1, and Wednesday, March 9.
At press time, Bell’s bill is placed on the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee calendar for Tuesday, March 15.
To contact Bell with a comments or concerns on his bill, call (615) 741-1946.