Handguns will be allowed on the campuses of Tennessee's public universities on Friday, and Memphis' two biggest universities began registering employees wishing to carry this week.
State lawmakers passed the bill to allow full-time employees to carry handguns on public university campuses in May. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam expressed concern about the legislation at the time but allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
The bill was opposed by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and the University of Tennessee (UT) system. The two organizations will manage gun-carry programs at the 46 institutions they oversee.
"Our police chiefs and public safety officers will face greater challenges when responding to emergency situations with the complexity this law adds to their responsibilities," TBR interim Chancellor David Gregory said in May.
Employees must have a state-issued permit to carry a handgun, and they must register with their school's police department if they want to carry on campus. University of Memphis opened its registration process to employees Tuesday. University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) will open its registration process Friday.
Handguns cannot be carried into stadiums, gymnasiums, or auditoriums while school-sanctioned events are in progress. They are not allowed in meetings about student or employee discipline matters or in meetings about faculty tenure. At UTHSC, handguns cannot be carried into a hospital, student health or counseling center, or into an office that provides medical or mental health services.
U of M president David Rudd was expected to release a more detailed statement on the issue this week, but in a statement to the U of M campus community in May, he said "I don't believe the presence of more weapons will make our campus safer."
"The University of Memphis campuses have consistently been among the safest in the state, which is critical to student success," Rudd said. "We believe our exemplary safety record is due in part to guns being prohibited with the exception of those carried by highly trained police officers."
Stuart Dedmon is a U of M student, and he heads the Tennessee chapter of Students for Concealed Carry (SCC), which advocates for on-campus carry rights. He said the organization does not claim that on-campus carry will make campuses safer. Concealed carry is about personal protection, he said, not public protection.
"We realize that many individuals are uncomfortable with the thought of armed individuals on their college campus, but those same individuals worried about guns on campus are likely surrounded by licensed and armed individuals while off campus.," Dedmon said.
Tennessee Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, who is also a professor at U of M's law school, surveyed 1,700 university faculty members across the state, and he said many criticized the move.
"Make no mistake. Special interest groups and the opinions of a very small minority of Tennesseans drive decisions like this one," Harris said.
Southwest Tennessee Community College did not respond to an inquiry on this story.