ST. LOUIS — With a Republican super majority in the Legislature and a newly elected Republican governor, Missouri colleges can probably expect the push for concealed carry on campuses to go all the way in 2017, despite opposition from all 13 public four-year universities.
Missouri is one of more than a dozen states that considered campus carry in 2016. Ten others have adopted similar laws.
Missouri law currently prohibits concealed firearms at higher education institutions “without the consent of the governing body” of that college, the exception to the rule being university law enforcement officers.
At least four bills introduced between the Missouri House and Senate in 2016 would have changed that statute. One version, sponsored by Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, that would have allowed full-time employees and faculty, but not students, to have firearms on campus, was later attached to a wide-ranging gun bill. The measure was removed just before the bill passed.
The larger gun bill, which was vetoed by the governor and overridden by the Legislature, allows residents to carry a concealed gun without a permit, among other things.
The campus carry issue has appeared for at least the last three years in Missouri.
A joint report published in January by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the Education Commission of the States outlined the history of campus carry nationwide.
The report points to the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech as a potential catalyst for campus carry discussions in many states. It also shows that 18 other states moved to ban firearms on campuses statewide. However, eight of those still allow guns in locked cars parked on university property.
Bringing it back
Taylor told the Post-Dispatch that he planned to bring back the campus carry bill in “a similar form” to what he ended with last session. That final product included a few “compromises” he said he made with college leaders.
For example, the final product would have prohibited guns in dormitories, college-run hospitals, science laboratories and administrative buildings where disciplinary action might take place.
“I believe it’s important because we do have a right through the second amendment,” Taylor told the Post-Dispatch, explaining why he supports the bill. He added that it was extra important considering the “increase of sexual assault and violent crimes” on campuses.
“We shouldn’t take someone’s rights away because they stepped across the street and onto a college campus,” Taylor said. “Overall, I think it’s about personal responsibility and personal safety.”
Taylor said the willingness of higher education leaders to work with him on last year’s campus carry bill was invaluable.
Among those leaders was Paul Wagner, director of the Council on Public Higher Education in Missouri, an organization that represents all 13 of Missouri’s public four-year universities.
Unlike most issues, all of the campuses “are in agreement that open carry of handguns is not a good idea,” Wagner said.
State law allows state university boards, which are appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature at every public four-year college, to decide whether they want to allow firearms on campus. All 13 have decided against it, Wagner said.
Rob Dixon, executive director of the Missouri Community College Association, said his organization didn’t speak in favor of or in opposition to the campus carry bill. He said that the 12 community college schools and systems agreed that because their board members were largely elected by residents, those boards “should have the authority to set policies on these issues.”
But Missouri’s public four-year institutions took direction from their experts.
“Our focus is always on whatever is going to keep campuses safe,” Wagner said. “So when the issue was raised, we talked to the people who set those policies on campus — our professional safety and security employees.”
Those people, Wagner said, advised leaders to oppose the effort.
Maj. Brian Weimer with the University of Missouri-Columbia Police Department declined to comment on the campus carry issue.
“Our job is to enforce the laws, not to make them,” Weimer said.
Ryan DeBoef, chief of staff to the president at Missouri State University, was also among those who worked with bill sponsors, despite the Springfield college’s speaking in opposition to the bill when the time came.
It’s a little too soon to speculate on what bill could come forward ahead of the 2017 session, he said. A spokesman from the University of Missouri System echoed a similar sentiment.
Legislators can begin pre-filing bills on Dec. 1, ahead of the first day of session Jan. 4.
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