A report from Hank Hayes:
BLOUNTVILLE — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told higher education officials Monday that contrary to their wishes, he will introduce legislation to allow handgun carry permit holders to keep their weapons locked up in their personal vehicles.
“I’ve already got it drafted …The (newspaper) headline will be ‘Guns On Campus,’ but that’s not what we’re talking about,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the bill at an annual luncheon held at Northeast State Community College between area lawmakers and higher education officials affiliated with the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR).
College campus police chiefs, in addition to business interests, opposed a bill in the last legislative session to prevent employers and landowners from prohibiting gun permit holders from storing guns in locked personal vehicles. The bill didn’t make it to floor votes in the House or Senate.
Dean Blevins, director of the Tennessee Technology Center at Elizabethton, reminded lawmakers early in the meeting that TBR opposes “any attempt to expand the presence of guns on college campuses” and asked them to exempt the higher education system out of any gun legislation.
After Blevins spoke, higher education operational and capital needs dominated the luncheon discussion until Ramsey took his gun permit card out of his wallet and held it up.
“It amazes me that when you put g-u-n in a sentence, people seem to lose common sense,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said. “Something is going to pass this year. I want to put this behind us and forget about it. …About four percent of the people in the state of Tennessee have a gun carry permit card. …You have to take a half-day class, take a test on a (shooting) range, and go through a TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) and FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) background check.
“There has been zero problem with these people across the state. …If the whole population was as responsible as the people who carry these little cards here, we could literally shut down our prisons. …You should be able to keep a firearm locked in your glove compartment. …If we passed this bill tomorrow, you wouldn’t know the difference the next day. We may exempt out schools, that’s fine, but even then we’re talking about public parking lots. …There’s got to be a way to keep it in a car legally. ”
TBR Vice Chancellor David Gregory told Ramsey campus police chiefs want fewer guns on campus.
“They say ‘Our job is to protect the students on campus,’ ” Gregory said.
“Why do you want to have a gun?” Wilsie Bishop, East Tennessee State University vice president for Health Affairs and chief operating officer, asked Ramsey.
“Self protection. There are nuts in this world, but I’m not one of them,” Ramsey said.
Outside of the gun discussion, talks focused on ways to improve the state’s higher education system.
“We want to be transparent and in lockstep with the things you want us to be about,” Gregory told lawmakers. “When you compare us to other states, we are an undereducated state. We don’t produce as many people with credentialed diplomas and degrees as do similar states in either the Southeast or throughout the country.”
ETSU President Brian Noland emphasized ETSU’s partnership with Northeast State and plans to locate in Kingsport’s downtown academic village.
Noland also asked for capital support for a new performing arts center, plus money for equipment and new programs.
“You will see serious conversation at the university this year about starting a school of dentistry,” Noland said.
Northeast State President Janice Gilliam asked lawmakers for enough funding to avoid tuition increases.
She introduced Northeast State student Jeremy Frear — the school’s “president of the day” — to make her case.
“I barely make enough money to pay my bills. …I’m worried about when I graduate having to pay off loans. I want to be a high school teacher. …Tuition going up will make it hard on me,” Frear said.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is doing a top-to-bottom review of higher education, and Ramsey said some reforms could be pitched to lawmakers in the next legislative session.
“The governor held meetings across the state with employers and educators over the summer and has been talking to higher education experts in Tennessee and across the country with the focus of tackling the ‘iron triangle’ of challenges in higher education: Access, cost and quality,” Haslam administration spokesman Dave Smith said in an e-mail.
Two years ago, Tennessee changed its higher education funding formula to being based on graduation rates as opposed to enrollment.