COLUMBIA — The Missouri House gave first-round approval Wednesday to a bill that would greatly expand gun owners' rights in Missouri, including a provision allowing students with permits to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.
While some see this as a positive development, others, including university officials, object to the legislation.
“Missouri’s college students should be allowed to learn and exchange ideas in an environment free from the threat of concealed guns,” University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee said in a news release Thursday. “It is hard to imagine that such a proposal could gain support given the magnitude of gun-related tragedies experienced on college campuses across the country.”
In addition to the provision to allow concealed weapons on campuses, the bill would also lower the eligibility age for obtaining a concealed carry permit from 23 to 21. Most states set the minimum age at 21.
Jonathan Ratliff, MU sophomore and campus leader for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said he was happy to see the amendment pass.
“All I want to do is be able to protect myself and allow my friends to be able to protect themselves,” he said.
Brian Roach, MU junior and president of MU College Democrats, said his group was opposed to allowing concealed weapons on campus.
“It was actually kind of a surprise that this passed so quickly,” he said.
MU Police Chief Jack Watring said at the MU Faculty Council meeting Thursday that he was opposed to the legislation.
“I don’t think most students in an educational environment need a weapon,” he said.
Watring said MU currently does not allow weapons of any kind on campus.
He added that the biggest concern with the concealed carry provision is the tactical problems it would create, such as the ability for police to identify a suspect in a situation where many people are carrying weapons.
Current concealed carry laws require applicants to undergo firearms training and to be free of felony convictions. The laws also ban concealed weapons in places such as schools, hospitals and large stadiums.
As amended, the bill would allow concealed weapons to be carried onto the campuses of public colleges and universities. During debate, several House members said such a law could help to prevent an incident similar to the 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech.
Rep. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, who sponsored the amendment, said schools and other public places that bar guns are open targets because people are sitting there like "a bunch of sheep."
But Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he was worried about the possible combination of drinking and weapons on college campuses.
"College boys who round up 25 opossums half drunk can do amazingly interesting things with fireworks, bottles of gasoline, with all kinds of interesting devices," Kelly said.
"Fraternity boys are a very inventive lot, let's make sure we give 'em guns to play with too," he added with sarcasm.
The amendment was adopted 106-41.
The bill faces one more vote before it can move to the Senate.