Campus carry bill passes House

Missouri House Bill 575 passed the House of Representatives and is going to the Senate.

The bill initially was based on campus protection officers of higher education institutions, which would allow for faculty and staff to undergo campus protection officer training and being able to conceal and carry. An amendment was added to the bill that would allow students to conceal and carry on campus as well.

Rep. Danny Busick, who represents Adair, Putnam, Mercer and Sullivan counties, voted in favor of the bill.

Council on Public Higher Education in Missouri opposes legislation that would remove or reduce the local governing board’s authority to set campus policies on firearms.

“Truman supports the COPHE position on campus carry,” Truman State University president Sue Thomas said in a written statement.   

Thomas added in a written statement that this opposition is based upon a few main points.  Missouri’s university campuses are gun-free zones, Thomas wrote. Every campus has armed, fully certified law enforcement professionals on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Thomas said the concealed carry age begins at 21 in most other states that allow campus carry. In Missouri, it is 19, and this makes a great deal of difference on a college campus.

Thomas wrote that COPHE is also concerned about the prospect of additional firearms on campus contributing to suicide and mental health issues. Thomas wrote COPHE states suicide is the leading cause of death among college students, and access to a weapon has been linked to the likelihood of success in a suicide attempt. Thomas said COPHE believes 18-25 year-olds have a higher rate of mental illness than any other age group. One in five young adults aged 18-25 suffers from a mental illness.

Thomas also said there are areas on campus that are clearly inappropriate for firearms like research laboratories, medical and mental health facilities, board meetings, student discipline proceedings and residence halls, especially without appropriate firearm storage available.

Sara Holzmeier, Department of Public Safety director, said this is the closest that any campus carry bill has come to becoming a law.  

Holzmeier said when this bill came up before, there was some concern from faculty and staff about the likelihood of a gun getting involved when disciplining or giving a bad grade.  

Some faculty were very apprehensive about past bills similar to HB 575, Holzmeier said.

“We as an institution are going to have to do something that makes them feel more comfortable to be able to do their job when and if this is passed,” Holzmeier said. “I do not know what that is till we get there.”

Holzmeier said a lot of state, such as Kansas, have allowed conceal and carry in higher education institutions, but their minimum age for conceal and carry permits is 21.

Holzmeier said she has some reservations about students on campus being away from home for the first time, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, thinking impulsively and having a gun.

The mental health worries on campus and throughout the United States also concern her and a gun might be more accessible to those looking to harm themselves or others.  

Holzmeier said there are people she is not concerned about having a concealed weapon — the ones who have been educated, have been raised with guns and have taken the eight-hour conceal and carry class. Holzmeier said those people are the most careful.   

“If kids were to come in at 19 years of age or older and they were to live on campus, we would have to address how we would store and secure things on campus,” Holzmeier said.

Holzmeier said the bill won’t affect the police department, but rather she said the biggest issue will be public perception and the fear of the unknown.

People need to understand who can carry, where they can carry and how to identify themselves as an armed citizen, Holzmeier said.

Holzmeier said she sees the good and the bad of the issue and the specifics of how this bill affects campus are just something the Truman community is going to have to deal with when and if it passes.  

“As a police officer, I will always be for the right to bear arms and the right for people to defend themselves with a firearm,” Holzmeier said. “However, in a college environment with the conceal and carry weapon permit [minimum age being 19], it poses a conflict with me because I am not sure at 19 some people have the maturity and the forethought to … really understand what kind of a huge responsibility it is to carry that and to know that you could take somebody else’s life.”