House bill could expand enhanced carry on college campuses

A bill passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives Wednesday could allow for expansion of open carry rules, including on college campuses. (courtesy)
Staff Writer

A bill passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives Wednesday could allow for expansion of open carry rules, including on college campuses.

House Bill 1083 passed the House by a margin of 81-29. The measure changes the 20ll House Bill 506 to include “any other public property, or portion of public property” as places where concealed carry is allowed. College dorms, stadiums and other buildings would be included under this definition. The bill applies only to those with enhanced firearm permits.

Though a gun owner himself, Rep. Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, expressed opposition to the bill.

“I have no problem whether they’re on a campus or anywhere else, for someone to keep their gun in their car,” Roberson said. ”I have no problem with private owners determining whether people can come into their business with a gun. However, for places like a courtroom or a stadium, I don’t see any purpose or reason for allowing people to come into that facility with a weapon.”

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum issued a statement opposing the bill.

“We have a fundamental responsibility to protect our students, faculty, staff and visitors to our campus,” Keenum said. “In recent years, the Mississippi Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning adopted policies to allow concealed weapons into ‘public’ venues on campus, but has not allowed firearms into areas determined ‘non-public,’ such as classrooms and residence halls.”

Keenum said MSU had “great concerns” about the increased risk such changes could pose on its campus.

“I believe that a majority of the parents of the outstanding young people we are entrusted with educating and nurturing share my concerns about the passage of this bill and with it, the introduction of firearms into our classrooms and our residence halls.”

In a letter to Keenum and University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffery Vitter, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said it was the SEC’s desire to see sporting events and venues exempted from the proposed bill.

Mississippi University for Women President Jim Borsig released a similar statement.

"The safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is of utmost importance to The W,” Borsig said. “ Allowing weapons in sensitive places such as classrooms, disciplinary hearings, counseling centers, residence halls and athletic and performance venues would put our university community, law enforcement and first responders at risk.”

Borsig also said the measure would inhibit the Mississippi Public University System’s ability to provide a safe campus environment.

Commissioner of Higher Education Glenn Boyce also spoke against the bill.

"The safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors on our university campuses is a top priority for the Board of Trustees and University leaders,” Boyce said. “H.B. 1083 compromises our ability to protect and ensure the safety of those on our campuses because it nullifies and prohibits any policies and/or authority to designate sensitive areas of campus where weapons should not be allowed."

Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, who voted in support of the bill, claimed it would change almost nothing from the original 2011 law.

Chism said the original law listed some places where carrying was not allowed, including courtrooms and federal buildings.

“It’s been the law since 2011,” Chism said. “All this bill did was allow somebody who has been questioned about whether they could carry or not in that particular building to have a recourse to carry to court, to enforce your ability to carry in that building.”

Chism also spoke to the opposition from Keenum and other higher education administrators.

“It talks about dormitories, residence halls, classrooms, but it’s been the law since 2011,” Chism said. “It’s also come out about the stadiums, gymnasiums and other things. It’s been the law since 2011.

Roberson expressed concerns about the qualifications of some who would be allowed to carry on public property under the new bill.

“I think it’s within the boundaries and rights of our university to make certain that it’s a safe zone,” Roberson said. “ That’s not to say that I distrust everyone that’s got concealed carry, but on the same token, there are people out there who don’t necessarily need to be given that option, and there should be a few locations in this world that we don’t have to worry about guns being brought into.”

Rep. Cheikh Taylor, D-Starkville, expressed vehement opposition to the bill, calling it one of the worst pieces of legislation he has seen so far this session.

“It essentially gave the ability for a college student or anyone else to carry a gun in the classroom or anywhere else on a college campus, even inside the stadium,” Taylor said. “The problem is that these are oftentimes highly-charged events, occasionally altercations happen.”

Starkville Gun Club President Clark Hartness declined to comment on the bill, saying he would need to study it further before doing so. However, he emphasized the change only applying to enhanced carry permit holders.

Requirements for an enhanced carry permit in Mississippi include an eight-hour class conducted by a nationally certified instructor, a fee and live fire drills form various distances
and positions.

The bill now heads to the Senate.