State colleges lobby against handgun bill, except for University

MnSCU officials said the bill would make it easier for people to carry guns on campus.

Kari Petrie

A handgun permit bill making its way through the Legislature is attracting the attention of many of the state’s universities and colleges, with one exception: the University of Minnesota system.

The Minnesota Citizens Personal Protection Act of 2003 would create uniform standards in authorizing permits to carry handguns. Currently, county sheriffs only issue permits at their discretion.

Several Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ presidents said the bill, if passed, will make it easier for people to bring guns to their campuses and might compromise their school’s safety. MnSCU officials are seeking an amendment to the bill barring guns on all state college and university campuses.

But University officials said they are not seeking an amendment.

Meredith McGrath, associate director of Student Judicial Affairs, said the bill – if passed – will not change University policy because the current student conduct code already prohibits firearms on campus.

According to the conduct code, possession of a firearm on campus would result in disciplinary action – expulsion or suspension.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the institution is not worried about the law creating possible legal challenges to the conduct code because unlike MnSCU, the University is not bound by the state’s constitution.

“Our relationship with the Legislature is a bit different than MnSCU’s,” he said.

The University was created before Minnesota’s statehood. The University’s charter is incorporated into the state’s constitution, making it independent from state law, Rotenberg has said.

University Provost Christine Maziar said the institution has not lobbied for an amendment because they have put their energies toward budget issues.

MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick held a telephone conference April 7 with MnSCU presidents to discuss their concerns about the bill and devise a plan to lobby for an amendment.

“We were all very clear in our opposition in the passage of this bill,” said Tom Horak, president of Normandale Community College.

Phillip Davis, president of Minneapolis Community and Technical College, said the law could threaten the lives of students, faculty and staff. Davis, who was a police officer for 18 years in White Bear Lake, Minn., said guns do not belong in the classroom.

“What is it?” said Davis. “I bring my backpack, my apple for my teacher and my nine millimeter? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

In March 2000, a visitor brought a gun on campus and threatened a student and a public safety officer, Davis said. That situation is a good example of what could happen if guns are allowed on campus, he said.

Horak said he was concerned about the safety of students. He said the college’s security officers do not carry weapons and are not trained to.

“If it’s legal for a student or staff member to carry a gun on campus – that’s going to change a lot of how we do business on campus,” he said.

Horak said he is worried that with the number of people who pass through Normandale’s buildings each day, he will not be able to control who has a gun and ensure safety for students, faculty and staff.

“It’s almost beyond my comprehension,” he said. “We’re trying to do our best to keep an open, safe campus and I can’t see how this is going to add to that in any way, shape or form.”

Rep. Lynda Boudreau, R-Faribault, who authored the House bill, said the legislation will not increase safety concerns on campus because the bill places more restrictions on those who carry guns. These restrictions include changing the age requirement from 18 to 21 and requiring training for gun owners.

The House and the Senate are waiting to vote on the bill.

Kari Petrie covers Board of Regents and administration. She welcomes comments at [email protected]