Strapped 

Handguns now on Memphis college campuses

Dozens of staffers with Memphis-area colleges and universities are now fully free to pack heat on campus without anyone ever knowing.

State lawmakers gave full-time employees at state-run schools permission to carry a concealed handgun on campus this year with a bill Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam wouldn't sign but allowed to become law. However, those employees had to have a state license and register with their school's security office before they could secretly carry their sidearm to, say, teach class, clean the grounds, or type a memo.

Registration began at Tennessee schools right around July 1st. So far, the University of Memphis (U of M) said 36 staffers have registered to carry handguns on campus. At the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), 22 have registered. Southwest Tennessee Community College (STCC) officials said 17 have registered to carry guns.

These figures are tiny fractions of the overall hundreds of employees working at these three schools. But all of the figures represent 100-percent more guns possible on the campuses from the year before.

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None of the institutions offered comment on the number of gun-carry permits they've approved so far. However, a U of M spokesman said the university stood by its July statement on the issue.

"I don't believe the presence of more weapons will make our campus safer," U of M president David Rudd said before the policy was implemented. "The University of Memphis campuses have consistently been among the safest in the state, which is critical to student success. 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."

The bill was opposed by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and the University of Tennessee (UT) system. The two organizations now have to manage the 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.

UT chancellor Joe DiPietro said, "I understand strong feelings exist regarding guns on campus and want to assure you of our unwavering commitment to the safety of our faculty, staff, and students as we implement this change."

The law does come with a few stipulations, however. 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.

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