Just because you may soon be allowed to keep a handgun in your car on the campus of East Tennessee State University, that doesn’t mean you will be able to remove that gun and carry it around on campus and you certainly won’t be able to even take it on the Veterans Affairs campus.
According to The Associated Press, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is likely to sign into law a bill to allow the state’s nearly 400,000 handgun carry permit holders to store firearms in their cars no matter where they are parked.
But this law would not apply to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center Campus, where ETSU’s colleges of medicine and pharmacy are located, said Jack Cotrel, ETSU public safety chief.
“The thing I think we have to make sure that our community understands is that this law doesn’t apply to the VA campus, because that is federal property and this simply doesn’t apply there,” Cotrel said.
The legislation does not apply to any federal property.
If Haslam signs the bill, and a gun carry permit holder takes their handgun out of their car on the campus of ETSU, that could be interpreted as a violation of the law, according to Cotrel.
“It makes it legal for a person, a citizen of Tennessee, who has a valid gun carry permit to secure that weapon in his car,” Cotrel said of the bill. “It’s got to be locked in a compartment within the vehicle.
“The law says nothing about the legality of an individual taking that, removing that gun from his vehicle. It simply allows you to have it in your car without violating the law.”
Cotrel did not expect law enforcement will have very many opportunities to enforce the law because cars will not be randomly searched for guns and to ensure the owner has a carry permit. In fact, without probable cause or a warrant, a car search is not done.
A bill that would allow guns in parking lots had been debated in the legislature for years before being approved this year. Previously, the Tennessee Association of Police Chiefs had opposed legislation that would have allowed guns on campus.
“This bill does not have near the complexity that previous versions of the bill had,” Cotrel said.
Cotrel did not expect to see any effects from this bill should it become law.
“Someone brandishing a firearm on campus is still a violation of state law,” Cotrel said.
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Board of Regents, the governing body for ETSU, provided a statement via email that said TBR is charged with ensuring student success, and part of that means providing a safe environment for students, faculty and staff.
“For that reason, TBR has historically opposed — and will continue to oppose — anything that allows more guns on our campuses and makes our environments less safe,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, this bill does not make our campuses safer. The result is that our schools are less protected than our businesses and industries. We’re hopeful this situation will be addressed.”