A Missouri Senate committee heard testimony Wednesday on two bills that would expand gun access on campuses, and college officials, including those at the University of Central Missouri, are opposed to the legislation.
According to the Associated Press, “One bill would permit a school to ban concealed firearms only if it posts armed guards and metal detectors at every entrance to every building on campus. The other would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring a gun to campus, but certain areas, such as large stadiums and places of worship, would still be exempt.”
The AP report states the proposals would apply to public and private schools that receive state funding.
Administrators are currently allowed to remove someone from campus for carrying a concealed weapon, though it’s not a criminal offense if the person has a concealed carry permit.
When speaking with members of the media last week about the progress of UCM and higher education, President Charles Ambrose told reporters “guns just don’t have a place here.”
“The gun bills do concern us. I will tell you that both bills that have been introduced on the Senate side have some degree of desire to help campuses deal with bad situations, basically active shooter situations,” he said. “It’s really an attempt to think about guns in a way that helps combat gun violence rather than an ideological kind of, who should be able to carry, but at the same time there are a lot of challenges on college campuses with mental health, suicide, alcohol, that guns just don’t have a place here.”
Ambrose went on to say he had spoken with many faculty and staff members who said “it actually scares them to think guns would be allowed” and some even said they would no longer work at UCM if guns end up being allowed.
“Like the national conversation, it’s a very complex issue, no question about it,” Ambrose said. “My personal opinion doesn’t matter much, but the safety of our students and our faculty and staff are absolutely primary.”
Ambrose said UCM would work to hire security guards and install metal detectors across campus before allowing guns, which is one of the two options with the proposed bill. Those added security measures, however, come with a hefty price tag.
“… To basically put into place the security measures required to not have to allow (guns), so it’s the metal detectors, extra security guards — we’re already committed to beef up our video presence to increase campus security in general — and when we started adding it up, that’s about a $45 million list,” he said. “I’ll be honest, we’ll try to do as much of that as we can before we allow guns on campus.”
He added that there may be some compromises coming with the legislation “to reach middle ground,” such as designating certain faculty or staff members who would be allowed to carry guns, but that he thinks “there’s a lot we can do to enhance security without having to move to conceal and carry.”
Sen. Brian Munzlinger, the Williamstown Republican who sponsored one of the bills, said a mass shooter can kill someone every few seconds. Law enforcement typically takes a few minutes to arrive, he said, while a law-abiding citizen with a gun and the proper training can take immediate action.
Republican lawmakers also criticized schools that don’t allow their uniformed security officers to carry guns.
“Making good people helpless doesn’t make bad people harmless,” said Sen. Bob Dixon, the Springfield Republican who sponsored the other bill.
While the bill’s sponsors are in favor of increased gun access at Missouri colleges, other university officials who testified against the bills agree with Ambrose.
According to the AP, Missouri State University President Clif Smart had a very similar stance to Ambrose, saying alcohol and mental health crises are more common in college and adding guns to that mix would be a bad idea. MSU’s price estimation matches UCM’s — $45 million to station guards and metal detectors at every door.
Southwest Baptist University President C. Pat Taylor said he worried more guns on campus would lead to more suicides.
A better way to prepare for threats is more training for students and staff, said Kenny Mayberry, the assistant director of the Southeast Missouri State University’s police department. Few people with concealed carry permits practice shooting as often as law enforcement, he said, and police typically miss most of their shots in an active situation.
Eight states allow people to carry concealed weapons on campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan research organization. Nineteen states have banned concealed weapons on college campuses as of October 2015, and 23 states leave the decision to the schools, according to the NCSL.
State Fair Community College President Dr. Joanna Anderson told the Democrat she had no comment regarding the pending legislation and directed all questions to Missouri Community College Association President Rob Dixon. Dixon did not return calls from the Democrat by press time.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke. The Associated Press contributed to this report.