Lawmaker wants to allow guns on college campuses
by Ed Anderson, The Times-Picayune Monday March 02, 2009, 6:42 PM
BATON ROUGE -- College students, faculty and employees who are licensed to carry concealed handguns should be able to tote them on their campuses, where they are now banned, according to a bill filed Monday by Rep. Ernest Wooton, R-Belle Chasse.
The measure is identical to one Wooton abandoned on the House floor last year after getting the House committee he chairs to approve it 11-3. Wooton said last year he counted 46 votes of support, seven shy of what was needed and withdrew the bill in the last stages of the session.
Wooton served notice at that time he would bring the bill back at every session as long as he is in the Legislature.
And as last year, college and university officials are lining up against Wooton's House Bill 27.
Wooton, a former Plaquemines Parish sheriff, could not be reached for comment Monday.
The bill would carve out an exception in the law that not prohibits the carrying of firearms in or near courthouses, government buildings and schools.
Tulane University spokesman Michael Strecker said that university officials "feel strongly that legislation allowing guns on campus is not in the best interest of our students, faculty and staff. We believe college campuses, like elementary and high schools, houses of worship, courthouses, parades, polling places, airports, the State Capitol and government buildings should, remain gun-free zones."
Loyola governmental relations director Tommy Screen said although officials at the Jesuit-run university have not seen the bill, if it is the same as the one filed last year, "we would be gravely concerned about it for our campus. .ยค.ยค. We don't think it is a good idea and will work to defeat it again this year. It is not in our best interest to have students or professors walking around with guns."
Meg Casper, chief spokeswoman for the State Board of Regents, the body that oversees all public colleges and universities, said Higher Education Commissioner Sally Clausen has not seen the bill. "We will approach it from a campus safety perspective, and not a Second Amendment (right to bear arms) issue," Casper said.
Wooton said last year that the bill is designed to let students, faculty and staff who have passed background checks and have qualified to carry firearms to do so on the campus of a university, college or post-secondary vocational technical school campus without being barred from doing so by school administrators.
He argued last year that the bill is needed to enhance safety of individuals who have to walk to their dorms or cars on campuses late at night.
The bill says that while university officials could not prohibit carrying a firearm on campus, they would have the to establish "rules or regulations relating to the storage of firearms."
So far, 27 bills have been filed in advance of the session that begins April 27. The focus of session in odd-numbered years is in fiscal issues but each lawmaker can file an unlimited number of local bills and up to five general issue bills each.
Ed Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 225.342-5810.