A bill allowing staff and faculty at Tennessee's public colleges and universities to be armed on campus became law Monday without the Republican governor's signature.
Gov. Bill Haslam said in a statement that he disagreed with the bill for not allowing institutions "to make their own decisions regarding security issues on campus."
But the governor acknowledged that the final version of the measure had addressed concerns raised by college administrators during the legislative process by including provisions protecting schools from liability and a requirement to notify law enforcement about who is armed on campus.
"Ultimately, this legislation was tailored to apply to certain employees in specific situations," Haslam said.
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The law, which allows faculty and staff with state-issued handgun carry permits to carry, is more limited than a bill that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal must decide on by Tuesday. That measure would allow anyone age 21 and up to carry a concealed handgun on campus with the proper permit.
The Tennessee law, which takes effect on July 1, will keep gun bans in place for stadiums or gymnasiums while school-sponsored events are in progress; meetings where disciplinary or tenure issues are being discussed; hospitals or offices where medical or mental health services are provided; and any location prohibited by another law, such as at day care centers or elementary schools located on campus.
University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro said in a statement that he opposes more guns on campus, but that the state's two public college systems entered into negotiations with sponsors because they "recognized early in the process that the bill had a great likelihood of passing."
DiPietro said he agrees with the governor's position of allowing schools to decide for themselves. But the National Rifle Association had argued against any opt-out provisions for the guns-on-campus bill.
"College campuses as gun-free zones present an environment where murderers, rapists and other criminals may commit crimes without fear of being harmed by their victims," The Tennessean newspaper quoted NRA lobbyists Erin Luper as saying during a committee hearing on the bill.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini criticized the governor for declining to veto the legislation, which she said puts the interests of "the gun lobby and their wealthy donors" above campus security.
"Governor Haslam is defying all common sense, ignoring the opposition of faculty and staff, and jeopardizing the safety and well-being of students," Mancini said.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden and fellow Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.
During the Senate debate on the bill, opponents circulated comments from a survey of faculty at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville that raised security concerns about more guns on campus. Bell scoffed at many of those comments, declaring that he hopes some professors will follow through on vows to quit their positions at the state's flagship university if the bill became law.
"Maybe this will give UT a chance to hire some conservative teachers if we have a mass exodus of some of these liberals who responded to this," he said.