New law permits students to carry non-lethal weapons on college and university campuses

Monday, July 8, 2024


According to anecdotal evidence, for decades, college and university students have carried pepper sprayers, sometimes even tasers. The trend was prompted by an increase in campus shootings and violent crimes, locally a concern since a hostage and shooting situation on Dyersburg State Community College’s campus in 2003.

Until now, carrying such non-lethal weapons onto campuses has been illegal in Tennessee. However, as of July 1, 2024, the law changed, and now, students and staff may carry any non-lethal weapons.

The state’s General Assembly passed the Laken Riley Act of 2024, HB1909, March 28 this year, and Governor Bill Lee signed it into law. It not only permits adult students to carry non-lethal weapons onto campuses, but it also prohibits higher ed institutions from prohibiting their carry. There are a few exceptions: institutions may ban these weapons in a building or site with armed guards, at a building or site which by contract forbids the practice, or on a campus which houses a pre-K-12 school.

The new law says that it “defines a ‘non-lethal weapon’ as pepper spray, a pepper spray gun, pepper gel, mace, a stun gun, an electronic control device, or other conducted energy device.”

The legislation states, “A public college or university or other public institution of higher education, shall not prohibit an adult person, including, but not limited to, a staff member, student, employee, and other adult person lawfully present on the property of the college, university, or institution from carrying a non-lethal weapon for purposes of self-defense when in any building or bus, on the campus, grounds, recreation area, athletic field, or any other property owned, operated, or while in use by any college or university board of trustees, regents, or directors for the administration of any public higher educational institution.”

We reached out for reactions from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Northwest and Dyersburg State Community College (DSCC)

TCAT Northwest President Dr. Youlanda Jones stated, “Safety and security is a priority at all TCAT campuses. Even with the new law,” she continued, “our policy remains the same: keep faculty, staff, and students safe at all time.”

She added that TCAT’s current measures already provide safety at TCAT and said that the new law represents no great change. She said the law better defines the legality of such practice.

DSCC President Dr. Scott Cook likewise stated, “Safety and security are our top priorities and we really don’t anticipate any concerns with the law.” He also said that their on-campus Chief of Police Michael Peeler expressed no concerns. Although DSCC has its own armed police force, the carrying of non-lethal weapons will be allowed.

He said that the law represents no great change, that the move is part of the security evolution on campuses. “There was a time with no weapons on campus,” he stated. “Then you could keep a weapon in your locked vehicle.” This applied to students and faculty. In April, Governor Bill Lee enacted a law allowing full-time employees to carry concealed handguns on campuses. Cook said that full-time staff there have to register their intent to carry with campus security.

According to “Campus Safety Magazine,” as of April 2024, 11 states allow some sort of gun carry, and the number appears to be growing.

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