Under new legislation that Governor Bill Haslam is allowing to become law without his signature, MTSU employees who hold handgun-carry permits will now be allowed to carry weapons on campus. The new rules take effect July 1, much to the disappointment and concern of some higher education and law enforcement officials.
The measure affects all full-time faculty and staff, although it does contain some safeguards such as mandatory registration with the law enforcement agency responsible for the university and voluntary training. Additionally, employees will be prohibited from carrying handguns to stadiums, gyms, and auditoriums during school-sponsored events.
Handgun carrying will also be forbidden in disciplinary or tenure meetings, in hospitals or offices focusing on the delivery of medical or mental health services, and where state or federal law otherwise bars it. Currently, the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police is establishing procedures and protocols for state universities to follow so that they remain in compliance with the new law.
In a public statement, Governor Haslam reiterated his concerns about so-called Senate Bill 2376 and his preference that universities retain more autonomy over matters of campus security. Haslam also stated that, “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.”
In addition to MTSU, the new law will impact Smyrna-based Motlow State Community College and the College of Applied Technology in Murfreesboro. It will also affect all other community college and technical schools statewide, which are governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR).
TBR consistently and vociferously opposed SB 2376 due to concerns about maintaining safe learning environments for students, employees, and campus visitors. Although TBR worked with police chiefs statewide to lobby for more safety measures in the legislation, Acting Chancellor David Gregory has continued to voice concerns about the “great challenges” law enforcement personnel will face in light of the new rules. TBR and other institutions, however, remain committed to working with legal staff and police agencies to ensure clear guidelines for handgun carriers on campus.
Dresden Republican and House sponsor of the bill Rep. Andy Holt has reportedly stated that the legislation was designed to boost safety on campuses by giving people a means to defend themselves. Rep. Holt intends to next introduce legislation that would allow students to be armed on campus. Rutherford County Rep. Dawn White publicly stated that she voted for the bill due to her “strong support[ ] of the Second Amendment” and belief that anyone with a permit should be able to carry a handgun on campus or otherwise.