Accidental Discharge Brings Attention to Gun Carry Authorization

There are currently 70 faculty and staff members who have authorization to carry firearms on Tech campus. By state law, the University Police Chief keeps the list of authorized employees and is not allowed to share that information. One of those guns may be in the classroom.  

“Authorized employees are allowed to carry guns in classrooms,” Karen Lykins, chief communication officer, said. 

The subject of guns on Tech campus was brought into the public eye by the accidental discharge of a weapon on campus in March by Dr. Kevin Braswell, vice president of university advancement.

While the university does not comment on internal employee matters, Braswell did issue a statement to The Oracle on the matter.  

“I am very sorry this accident occurred and have voluntarily given up the privilege to carry on campus going forward,” Braswell said.

The shootings on college campuses, at workplaces and in public places in recent years have kept the subject of the public carrying guns a focus of attention.

“I believe concealed carry on campus has now become necessary with the increase in school shootings,” Mirah West, senior English major, said. 

Full time employees at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities can now carry handguns on campus under a bill that became law in 2016, although without Bill Haslam’s signature, who was governor at the time.  Tennessee is one of 11 states who allow university employees to carry concealed weapons.

“A full time employee, who is not enrolled as a student, can follow registration procedures in University Policy 422, Weapons on Tennessee Tech Property. State law requires that full-time employees show proof of a state-issued enhanced handgun carry permit.” Lykins said.  

Lykins said requests for authorization were gradual in the beginning but have remained steady over the past few years. After the initial authorization is obtained, the permit lasts indefinitely, and there is no system in place for it to be renewed or reviewed at certain intervals. 

“After the initial authorization, the law does not require the university to review or renew at intervals,” Lykins.  

According to University Police Chief Tony Nelson, an employee’s failure to follow state law and/or University policy pertaining to carrying weapons on campus could result in that individual’s authorization being revoked. No one has ever had their authorization to carry a gun on Tech campus revoked. 

I am glad there are that many authorized, but only if they know how to properly use their firearm,” Christopher Fairchild, a junior English major, said.

Tech policy says an authorized employee is not permitted to carry a handgun openly, or in any manner in which the handgun is visible to ordinary observation. 

Authorized employees are never permitted to carry a concealed handgun in stadiums, gymnasiums, athletic fields, public parks, auditoriums or other building facilities, areas or property when  Tech-related events are in progress; in employment-related meetings; in meetings regarding disciplinary matters; wherever medical or mental health services are the primary services provided, including but not limited to the University Counseling Center and the University Health Center; in any Tech childcare facility or wherever childcare activities are occurring.

Governor Lee signed the Permitless Carry bill into law on Thursday, April 8th. It allows people 21 and older to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit, along with members of the military, ages 18 to 20. However, state law still prohibits university students from carrying guns on campus.

“Even with the Permitless Carry law in place, the state law governing full-time university employees still requires verification that an employee has an enhanced handgun carry permit before they can register to carry a handgun on campus,”  Lykins said.