State lawmakers are considering a bill that would further expand access to guns on college campuses, which one official has described as a "very disturbing" effort.
The bill, which is scheduled to come up for debate Tuesday in the House Civil Justice Committee, would allow part-time employees at public colleges to carry concealed guns on campus. It is an extension of a law passed last year — without Gov. Bill Haslam's signature — that allowed full-time employees to carry guns.
The restrictions of the 2016 law would still apply: Employees would need a permit and would have to register with campus or local law enforcement before they could start carrying a firearm. And guns would still be prohibited in personnel meetings, at sporting events and in some other situations.
College administrators and campus police are vehemently opposed to the bill and any other efforts to expand access to guns on campus. But Republican lawmakers have repeatedly argued that allowing guns on campus would increase safety.
The bill as originally filed would have applied only to part-time security guards. But House sponsor Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, amended it last week to apply to all part-time employees during a meeting of the Civil Justice Subcommittee.
The move stunned college officials, who had not seen the amendment and had come to last week's meeting prepared to oppose the bill as it was originally proposed. Mary Moody, the general counsel of the Tennessee Board of Regents college system, told the subcommittee that last year's law had been the result of extensive negotiations between lawmakers and colleges.
"The limitation of the right to carry to full-time employees only was an important part of that negotiation," Moody said. "To come back this year and expand it to all part-time employees is very disturbing. This is not what we bargained for."
Tom Stufano, the chief of police at Roane State Community College, has been a vocal critic of efforts to allow more guns on campus. During last week's meeting with lawmakers, he said the latest bill could "potentially create catastrophic issues" in an emergency situation.
Echoing arguments made by police last year, Stufano told the subcommittee more people with guns on campus would actually slow police response time if an active shooter was on campus.
Few of the lawmakers questioned Moody or Stufano last week, and none of them countered the college officials' arguments. Rep. Mike Carter, the Republican from Ooltewah who chairs the subcommittee, thanked Stufano for his feedback, referencing the officer's past experience as chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Southeast region.
"Your expertise is a great service to all of us," Carter said before the panel approved the bill, moving it one step closer to the House floor.
Reach Adam Tamburin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-726-5986 and on Twitter @tamburintweets.