In July 2016, a Tennessee law went into effect allowing full-time employees at state colleges and universities who have a valid handgun permit to carry concealed handguns on campus. The law required that employees notify campus police in writing of their intent to carry and states that the firearm must be concealed.
In December 2016, East Tennessee State University had 47 employees who had notified the college of their intent to carry on campus. The university wasn’t able to provide an updated figure in time for publication of this article, but ETSU spokesperson Joe Smith said there has been little change over the past year in that number.
“There’s not been any significant increase in the number of individuals who’ve come forward and requested to have a concealed handgun on campus,” Smith said.
Northeast State Community College had eight employees who could carry handguns on campus in December 2016. As of Tuesday, there are 10 employees at Northeast State Community College who have notified the campus police department of their intent to carry.
“There’s not a whole lot that do it,” said Brian Johnson, the chief of police at Northeast State.
He said the college will occasionally get new staff and faculty who are interested in carrying on campus, but the department will typically go several months before hearing from an interested employee.
In July 2016, several days after the law went into effect, ETSU had 16 employees notify the university of their intent to carry on campus and Northeast State had seven.
Because Milligan College is a private institution, it does not have a policy on allowing full time employees to carry concealed handguns on campus and currently prohibits weapons on campus.
Both ETSU and Northeast State have forms that employees must fill out and provide to campus police before carrying on campus. The law requires that universities keep identifying information contained in those documents confidential. When those employees retire, Smith said ETSU keeps those forms on file.
The law does create certain exceptions to the rule. Owners cannot bring handguns into stadiums, gymnasiums or auditoriums during school-sponsored events. They cannot bring them to meetings regarding tenure or disciplinary matters, and handguns are also prohibited from a hospital or office where medical or mental health services are the primary services provided.
Qualified employees are also prohibited from carrying handguns on campus if they are students at the university.
Dennis Prater is an adjunct professor at ETSU and is a member of United Campus Workers, a union that according to its website has 1,800 members on 16 campuses in the state. Prater said the organization opposes the law, which he said was passed against the overwhelming wishes of university presidents and police chiefs.
“Why should we have guns on campus in the hands of people who are not trained safety professionals?” Prater said. “Can we not allow the trained safety professionals to be the ones to take care of those things? One would think that we have adequate security already.”
Johnson said he can understand how allowing employees to carry concealed handguns on campus would make those individuals feel safer.
“You never know what situation you’re going to be in or how things play out in those situations,” he said, “but I would think that if you have trained and can carry, that has the potential for making things safer.”
But, he said it could also pose a risk when officers are responding to an incident on campus.
“Responding to an incident like that and not knowing how that person is going to react, I think it could possibly make the safety a little questionable," he said.
At ETSU, Smith said the university provides safety information to employees who want to carry on campus, and Johnson said the campus police at Northeast State are careful to tell interested employees that, if they’re ever in a situation where they need to pull their gun, they must put the firearm down and put their hands up when law enforcement arrives.
“In those situations there’s just split seconds to make decisions,” Johnson said.