An NRA representative urged Kentucky lawmakers to approve concealed weapons on Kentucky’s college and university campuses. (Photo by Aristide Economopoulos for NJ Monitor)
FRANKFORT — Republican legislation that would ban colleges, universities and any other “postsecondary education facility” from restricting or banning concealed-carry firearms on campuses advanced out of a Tuesday morning House committee meeting.
House Bill 542, sponsored by Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, was previously an unrelated bill about “workforce development” before the title and content of the bill were changed through a substitute bill.
Currently, colleges and universities in Kentucky can choose whether to restrict or ban people with concealed carry permits from carrying firearms on their respective campuses. All of Kentucky’s public universities and the state’s community and technical college system prohibit concealed carry firearms on campus, with an exception for concealed-carry permit holders who keep a firearm locked in a personal vehicle.
A lobbyist with the National Rifle Association testified in favor of the bill, while organizations representing universities and colleges throughout Kentucky were unified in their opposition to the legislation. NRA lobbyist Art Thomm said in testimony that the bill “seeks to empower men and women to protect themselves from violent attacks.”
“Throughout the movement of this legislation, you will hear a tirade of scenarios — how crime will increase, how safety will diminish and how our children will be placed at risk and so on. Blood will run through the streets at our state colleges and universities. There’s one major problem with that thought process — it’s wrong,” Thomm said.
The NRA recently supported a similar bill in West Virginia that was signed into law allowing people with concealed carry permits to bring firearms on college campuses.
Representatives for universities and colleges, in opposing the bill, state they are against efforts to limit the decision-making ability of higher education institutions.
In a statement issued after the committee action, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education President Aaron Thompson said “any legislation that allows concealed weapons on campuses threatens students’ real and perceived safety.”
“Our public college and university chiefs of police are unanimous in their professional judgment that any law or policy that increases the prevalence of deadly weapons on campus makes those places where our friends and families go to work, attend school, and enjoy community with each other much less safe,” he said.
Thompson said the council was “unaware of any reliable statistical evidence” that carrying concealed firearms reduces violence on campuses. The council serves as a coordinating board serving Kentucky’s public universities and community and technical colleges.
The president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 18 private, non profit higher education institutions in the state, also issued a statement saying they’re still trying to get clarification on “certain elements” in Maddox’s bill.
“AIKCU opposes any efforts to limit the ability of independent colleges and universities to determine how to best protect the safety and wellbeing of their students, faculty, and staff,” Mason Dyer said.
University of Kentucky spokesperson Jay Blanton said the university deeply respects policymakers but that UK’s “law enforcement, safety and health officials are unequivocal in their belief that allowing guns on campus will make our community less safe — whether that’s in a classroom, hospital or athletics venue.”
“We will continue to make that case, respectfully and candidly, in direct conversations with lawmakers now and in the coming days,” Blanton said.
When asked Tuesday afternoon if the public and universities were given enough advance notice regarding her substitute bill that a committee approved, Maddox said she gave members of the House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee advance copies of the substitute bill and had met with universities about the issue in January.
“It’s not a function of transparency on the issue,” she said. “They certainly had enough of an opportunity to mount opposition.”
Maddox had also filed a separate bill this legislative session that would remove concealed carry restrictions or bans from elementary and secondary schools, except for students.
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