JEFFERSON CITY — Exactly two years after a gunman killed 32 people and himself on the campus of Virginia Tech, the Missouri House voted Thursday to allow concealed weapons on college campuses.
An amendment to a proposed gun bill, which was approved 105-50 Thursday, would pertain only to gun owners who are properly licensed in the state. The bill will now move to the state Senate for consideration.
Republicans speaking in favor of the concealed-carry amendment said college students have a right to defend themselves from violent people who would disregard designated gun-free zones.
"I believe in concealed-carry," said state Rep. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg. "If you can carry a gun in other public places, why should an open college campus be any different?"
Although the bill passed with support from a strong majority of state representatives, it has been criticized by university officials. The presidents of MU, Rockhurst University and Missouri State University have all spoken out against the amendment, as have many newspaper editorials around the state.
At least one House member, state Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, said university leadership should have the right to determine its own gun regulations.
"This says that we don't trust college presidents to decide for themselves whether guns should be allowed on campus or not," Kander said. "They should have the right to decide what's best for their campus."
State Rep. Gary Dusenberg, R-Blue Springs, said people's right to defend themselves from potential violence supersedes the will of college presidents.
Dusenberg added that 21-year-old college students are smart and mature enough to carry weapons anywhere, including on campus.
"What we need to remember is that these people who are 21 know what they can and cannot do, and if someone wants to be a criminal, they are going to be a criminal no matter what," he said. "People have a right to defend themselves from that."
Dusenberg pointed to studies showing that mass shooters tend to target gun-free zones, such as college campuses. Students are prohibited from carrying concealed weapons at Virginia Tech and also at Northern Illinois University, where six students were shot and killed in February 2008.
Despite opposition to the concealed-carry amendment, multiple Democrats, including Kander, voiced support for other aspects of the bill, which would enable Missourians to kill anyone unlawfully entering their private property and would lower the age requirement for obtaining a concealed-weapons permit from 23 to 21.
At one point, the controversial amendment's sponsor, state Rep. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, tried to bring his proposal forward as a stand-alone bill, but he struggled to find a successful House committee vote. Instead, the amendment was added to the larger gun rights bill by a 106-41 vote last week — but not without contentious debate.
Even with the bill winning ultimate House approval Thursday, the Senate could still strip Munzlinger's amendment or could filibuster the bill when it is considered. Although Republicans control Missouri's upper legislative chamber 23 to 11, state Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart — who opposed the House bill — said he doesn't expect the amendment to survive through the Senate.
"There is a lot of good in the bill, and it's kind of a shame that it has been clogged by this wedge issue," Roorda said.
State Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, argued that college students who are under stress or potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol should not have even easier access to guns than they already do.
She added that she has heard concerns regarding the measure from Republicans and Democrats alike.
"I hear it from people in both parties who think this is a terrible idea," Still said.
But Munzlinger maintained that those who are against the bill are misguided.
"The law-abiding citizens are the ones who the opponents of this bill fear," Munzlinger said. "They should be fearing those who want to create mayhem and allow for people to protect themselves."
Legislators made frequent reference to the Virginia Tech tragedy during Thursday's debate in the House, but no mention was made that the gun rights bill was passed on its anniversary.