Campus carry dialogue highlights student safety, divide of opinions

A panel of speakers discussed differing opinions on the controversial open-carry laws on the university that allow faculty to carry a firearm on university grounds with a permit.

//Photo by Ryan McGill

A loosely packed room in in the Alumni Memorial Building of the University of Tennessee last night filled with passionate opinions as a panel discussed campus carry.

Jordan Smith, Coordinator for student engagement, moderated the final Diversity Dialogue Town Hall of the semester. He began with a brief introduction of SB2376, the bill that passed earlier this year introducing the extension of concealed carry rights to faculty on Tennessee college campuses, and followed by introducing those on the panel.

Panelists in attendance included University of Tennessee Chief of Police Troy Lane, Dr. Bruce McLennan, the immediate past president of the faculty senate, Kimberly Peterson of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Chandler Tuck, president of student for concealed carry at the university.

Within Lane’s brief self introduction, he touched on his immediate involvement in the process surrounding legislation similar to SB2376 and the potential future of campus carry laws.

“If you looked at what the bill was when it was introduced and what it became when it became law, regardless of what your feelings are on the subject, I can tell you definitively that there are a lot more protections and hoops and so forth to jump through in terms of what we ended up with than what we started as,” Lane said.

“Should we expect more in the future?” Lane continued. “Right now and I can’t say with any certainty, but I’m hearing is so far, this is not an issue the we anticipate further movement on, but that could change tomorrow.”

Tuck, of the Students for Concealed Carry, called for action in contacting legislators so that the spring assembly might look at drafting possible bills.

“We get students to sign petitions and those will be sent to state senators and state representatives,” Tuck said. “That’s the way it will be handled this upcoming session.”

McLennan addressed campus security concerns that the he felt were a growing concern with the introduction of concealed carry on campus.

“Having guns on campus increase probability of all sorts of other problems, undiagnosed mental illness in faculty or staff or students that increases the chance of somebody injuring somebody else or perhaps committing suicide, accidental discharges also people that have anger management issues; all of these are cases where guns have a negative value,” MacLennan said. “Overall I believe that having guns on campus makes us less safe.”

The campus safety concerns that MacLennan expressed were not shared by a significant portion of the audience, however, as the mention of the roughly 130 faculty that have informed the University of Tennessee Police Department of their intent to carry was met with a hearty round of applause.

“There’s research that backs that not necessarily guns are a good things, but guns don’t kill people,” Tuck said. “People kill people.”

In congruence with what every panelist said, regardless of their personal stance, Tuck said, “If you don’t like it, voice your opinion; if you do like it, join me and voice your opinion.”

Peterson of Moms Demand Action shared insights into the grass roots organization that claims to have 3.5 million members.

“A lot of our members are gun owners. We have a rifle in our house,” Peterson said. “If you see anything about Moms Demand Action, we are for gun sense. We are working on sensible gun laws to and for gun safety and violence prevention.”

Faculty currently have the right to carry on campus, but that right is not extended to the students.

Sharing her personal opinion on the potential for student carry, Patterson said, “What struck me is that as I was preparing for this discussion, the overwhelming voice is that it doesn’t make our campus safer. Our campuses are pretty safe. Yes we have some issues we desperately need to work on, but there’s nothing that shows us that having a gun is going to prevent those incidents from occurring.”

Travis Bryan, a UT student attending the nights discussion, was disheartened by the current state of affairs.

“I’m a Marine, I’ve been through Marine training, but I can’t carry. I can keep it in my car,” Bryan said mentioning that he was also licensed to carry in both Tennessee and North Carolina.

“I understand, some people are scared, and that’s fine,” said Bryan. “I just want to feel safe.”

Featured Image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Ben Webb