State Sen. Stacey Campfield contends a precedent for passage of his “guns on campus” bill has been set by advancing legislation that’s intended to let an Overton County farm overseer shoot snakes or wild hogs.
As passed 92-1 by the House, the bill in question authorizes “farm employees” of the University of Tennessee and the state Board of Regents to carry weapons.
The bill, HB185, came before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the panel had voted to postpone until 2012 any action on Campfield’s guns-on-campus bill, which would allow faculty and staff of universities to carry guns if they have a handgun carry permit. A House committee also killed the bill for this year.
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, said an agreement had been reached by all parties concerned to amend the “guns on farms” bill to exclude all UT facilities and, in effect, apply only to one 1,200-acre farm in Overton County that has been leased by Tennessee Technological University, part of the Regents system.
The farm overseer, whose family owned the farm for years, wants to “protect himself from snakes,” Yager told colleagues, and needs to carry a gun to do so.
“I believe it’s illegal to shoot snakes in Tennessee,” said Campfield.
“What else are you supposed to do with them?” replied Yager, touching off a round of convoluted debate.
“Well, I understand snakes come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes it’s good to be able to carry a gun and shoot them,” said Campfield.
Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, said she was worried the farmer would be shooting “harmless snakes.” Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, suggested the farmer should have special training to shoot snakes because they “slither around or can be stretched out” to become difficult targets.
Yager then said he had apparently and mistakenly “stirred up a lot of unnecessary venom.” He brought David Gregory, a vice chancellor of the Board of Regents, before the committee to “straighten me out.”
Actually, said Gregory, the farmer’s primary target would be “wild hogs” that are roaming the farm – not snakes.
House sponsor Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, explained in an interview that hogs are harassing cattle on the farm and otherwise causing extensive damage.
Gregory served as a key spokesman for the Regents in opposing Campfield’s guns-on-campus bill, prompting Campfield to use the occasion to question Gregory at some length and – as he acknowledged later in an interview – in somewhat sarcastic fashion.
“That sounds awfully dangerous,” said Campfield. “While he’s shooting at a hog, couldn’t a stray bullet hit another person working on the farm, too? … What if someone heard the shooting and called the police (who then might shoot the farmer, thinking he was an armed criminal)?”
Gregory said he supposed there could be “a potential” for such occurrences.
Campfield said later that he was using the same arguments used by opponents of his guns-on-campus bill.
In fact, the senator said, the guns-on-farms bill is “much more wide open” than his proposal because no special training is required for the gun carrier.
“We’ve finally got guns on campus,” said Campfield later.
Yager’s bill was unanimously approved by the committee, as amended, after Yager apologized for the snake mistake.
Windle said in an interview that snakes were indeed a concern, though not as much as the wild hogs. He also took exception to Campfield’s characterizing his bill as similar to the guns-on-campus measure.
“We’re not talking about Cumberland Avenue in Knoxville here,” said Windle. “Is Ayres Hall (on the UT Knoxville campus) full of cattle, hogs and snakes?”
Windle identified the farm overseer as Will Qualls, a member of the family owning the farm before it was leased to Tennessee Tech, who is “a great guy” well-versed in handling guns.
See also, Stacey’s blog post on the matter.