By Samuel Ast
Earlier this month, Missouri lawmakers voted to pass legislation that would allow college students, faculty, and staff to carry firearms with them on campus.
Now that state representatives have shown their support for the proposal with a 98-52 vote, the state senate will soon have to decide whether or not they agree with their Republican colleagues who want to allow guns to be brought onto the grounds of public state universities.
“Allowing individuals the ability to protect themselves is the ultimate goal,” said Rep. Jered Taylor, a sponsor of the bill.
The current policy for schools within the University of Missouri System is no guns on campus. The bill in question would change that.
The proposed legislation was originally intended to allow a university’s governing board, in this case the Board of Curators, to designate certain individuals as “campus protection officers” who would be permitted to carry a concealed weapon on campus property. However, after an amendment was introduced by representative Taylor, a Republican representing a district 60 miles southwest of Springfield, all of that changed.
This past Saturday, DaRon McGee, a Democrat representing south Kansas City and opponent of the bill, held a town hall at the First Baptist Church of Kansas City to discuss the proposed law.
“I think the people of my district need to be aware that bills like this are making their way through the legislature,” said McGee in a statement. “It’s important for me to hear directly from my constituents about their priorities for our state government.”
Rep. McGee has sponsored a bill that would have banned celebratory gunfire, only to see the majority in the house refuse to debate it, even though this particular bill was supported by Second Amendment advocates like the National Rifle Association.
Not all are sure that Rep. Taylor’s current motives regarding campus safety are as altruistic as they sound. While most would agree that an individual’s right to protect themselves is a non-debatable aspect of any functional society operating under the rule of law, others point out that the prevalence of more guns might not actually help to provide public safety.
“We have received a number of comments both for and against the bill that have come from a variety of individuals,” mentions Christian Basi, a spokesman for the University of Missouri System.
Just recently, Kansas adopted a bill analogous to the legislation at question here. Additionally, though Missouri’s commitment to the Second Amendment is well known, bills that look remarkably similar to House Bill 257, as Taylor’s bill is known in Jefferson City, have ended up failing in regular fashion.
“Because the language has changed every time, we are hesitant to spend time on preparing for changes that didn’t come,” said Basi in response to questions concerning whether or not the University was thinking about how to implement the new policies that this legislation would require if it passed the senate and became law.“We certainly have been watching it very closely,” he continued.
Last year, Basi was quoted expressing support of a 2018 decision from Circuit Court Judge Jeff Harris that ruled against an individual’s challenge of the university’s no-guns-on-campus policy. “We are pleased with the court ruling on the state statute issue,” Basi told The Kansas City Star at the time.
Missouri lawmakers seem undeterred by previous rulings and community concerns surrounding the topic at issue. Sponsors of HB257 are selling it as an opportunity to positively benefit students in Missouri while downplaying the potential negative effects of guns at school.
“In other states that this has been implemented, not only have they seen a decrease in overall crime on campus but not one act of violence, threat of violence, or suicide attempt by a CCW permit holder on one campus has been reported,” said Taylor, referring to concealed carry at public universities.
Ken Novak, a professor of criminal justice at the UMKC, points out that there is no evidence that supports or refutes Taylor’s claims, adding that most of the research on campus carry “has focused on attitudes of students or faculty/staff, or legal analyses of laws in different states.”