Sen. Bell eyes revival of ‘guns on campus’ bill

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Republican state lawmaker says he might offer legislation authorizing faculty and employees at Tennessee’s public higher education institutions to carry firearms and have “the best chance possible to defend themselves” if there’s a campus shooting.

Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville mentioned the proposal Thursday as the state Senate Higher Education Subcommittee discussed campus security.

Higher education officials with the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents — which oversees the state’s six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology — discussed their emergency preparedness plans.

When questioned by reporters after the meeting, Bell said he believes such a measure is necessary following the campus massacre earlier this month at an Oregon community college where a gunman killed nine people before taking his own life.

“I think we need to give our citizens the best chance possible to defend themselves when that kind of situation comes up,” said Bell, who added that he’s got the support of several other Republican state lawmakers. He said the authorization would apply to those with handgun permits.

However, state higher education officials said they have adequate security on their campuses and don’t think the legislation is necessary.

“We’re comfortable with our law enforcement officers and those trained individuals on our campus that are hired to do that sort of work,” said Mike Gregory, director of special events and emergency management for the University of Tennessee.

“I think we’re prepared as we can be.”

Warren Nichols, vice chancellor for the Tennessee Board of Regents’ community colleges, said gun legislation “is not going to be the answer to our problems.”

“We need to be thinking about how we address this as a societal issue,” Nichols said. “It’s not necessarily just a gun issue.”

Bell said he’s also considering legislation that would allow students with handgun permits to be armed at a private college or university.

“If they want to allow students with permits to carry, the private school or university should make that decision and not the state,” he said.

Note: There have been previous “guns on campus” bills in the Legislature, though never passing. Former Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, was an outspoken champion of the idea. A 2011 post on the demise of the bill that year is HERE.