Campus police chief addresses pending guns on campus legislation

Posted by Karen Lykins - Friday, April 22 2011
klykins@tntech.edu
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Tennessee Tech University Police Chief Gay Shepherd has joined the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and numerous presidents, faculty, staff and students of Tennessee's public higher education institutions in opposing the various bills currently pending in the state legislature that would allow guns on college campuses.

The primary concern is the safety and security of the students, faculty and staff on the campuses.

"If I or one of my officers come upon a scene with an active shooter, we need to be able to immediately determine who is the aggressor," said Shepherd. "Responding quickly and decisively is key. If we have several members of the campus community armed and engaged in the situation, it would drastically impact how effective we could be."

Law enforcement officials nationwide have expressed concern that campuses will become less safe with more gun carriers by complicating law enforcement response to potential threats.

"Just because someone is permitted to carry a weapon, we cannot presume the individual's ability or skill set with that weapon during an alarming situation," wrote Chief David Beams, TACP president, and Chief August Washington, chairman of the TACP University Committee and chief of the Vanderbilt University Police Department, in a letter to the General Assembly.

Shepherd agrees. And she adds that the ability to use weapons correctly and effectively is a constant process, and that retaining a permit takes effort and planning.

"As officers we constantly train to maintain weapons accuracy and retention," she said. "We use Level 3 holsters for extra safety and have to train to release and use those weapons quickly and accurately. How can we know if that level of training is being carried out by individuals with weapons on campus?"

The University of Tennessee System and the Tennessee Board of Regents have both strongly opposed the bills for several reasons, with safety the primary concern. Both support the current law that prohibits anyone other than law enforcement officers to have weapons on campus.

Recent campus crime reports indicate Tennessee college campuses are often safer than the communities that surround them. College officials are also concerned about the added liabilities and costs they could face if the laws are changed.

House Bill 2016 is scheduled to come up in the House Judiciary Committee. As amended, it will allow all full-time faculty and staff members of public postsecondary institutions with a concealed weapon permit to carry a concealed firearm on campus after completing a two-hour handgun safety training course. The bill does not pertain to students, part-time employees or adjunct faculty members. The bill provides that if an institution elects to opt out, it will have a duty to guarantee and warrant the health and safety of persons on the campus.