GOP bill to ban gun-free zones at colleges passes committee


FRANKFORT, Ky. — A Kentucky lawmaker wants to allow students on college campuses to carry firearms. The bill also does not allow universities to opt out of that.

What You Need To Know

  • A bill introduced by State Rep. Savannah Maddox (R-Dry Ridge) would allow for people to conceal carry firearms at colleges, universities, and other post-secondary education campuses

  • Kentucky institutions have the choice whether to allow people over the age of 21 to carry a concealed firearm on campus. House Bill 542 would make this mandatory

  • State Rep. Sarah Stalked (D-Louisville) calls the bill an example of government overreach

  • In separate statements, the University of Louisville, Northern Kentucky University and the Kentucky Association of University Law Enforcement Administrators opposed to the bill

The bill, introduced by Republican State Rep. Savannah Maddox (R-Dry Ridge), entitled “An Act Related to Workforce Development,” was actually a shell bill that would allow for people to conceal carry firearms at colleges, universities and other post-secondary education campuses in Kentucky.

“I think that Virginia Tech and Michigan State both provide a perfect example of how it is that law-abiding citizens have been prevented from defending themselves,” Maddox said.

Currently, Kentucky institutions have the choice whether to allow people over the age of 21 to carry a concealed firearm on campus. House Bill 542 would make this mandatory.

“I feel as though, if we are able to enable Kentucky citizens to exercise their second amendment rights, then they will have the ability to defend themselves in the event of the unthinkable,” Maddox explained.

Maddox and a representative from the National Rifle Association presented the bill at a committee meeting Wednesday. “I feel as the Kentucky General Assembly has a responsibility to do away with ineffective policies such as gun-free zone, which are clearly proven not to work and not to keep our citizens safe,” Maddox said in her support for the bill.

State Rep. Sarah Stalker (D-Louisville) opposed the bill, saying it would cause government overreach. “It’s completely inappropriate for the General Assembly to overreach and to say this is what you can cannot do in this particular case, when it comes to campuses and how you want your students, your staff, your visitors to feel safe,” she said.

In separate statements to Spectrum News 1, the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky and Northern Kentucky University said they opposed HB 542.

“The University of Louisville has a policy that prohibits the possession of deadly weapons on its campuses by anyone except law enforcement officials. The university opposes any bill that changes this policy due to its potential impact on the safety of our students, faculty and staff,” said John Karman, a spokesperson for the University of Louisville.

“We deeply respect our policymakers but immediately began making the argument to them that local control remains the best policy with respect to this important safety issue,” said Jay Blanton, a spokesperson for the University of Kentucky. “We will continue to make that case, respectfully and candidly, in direct conversations with lawmakers now and in the coming days.”

“NKU is opposed to House Bill 542 as we feel strongly that the introduction of guns into the campus community will lead to a less safe campus environment,” said Clayton Castle, a spokesperson for Northern Kentucky University. “Creating an environment with more guns on campus could create confusion and endanger everyone involved.”

Aaron Thompson, president of The Council on Postsecondary Education released a statement also opposing HB 542.  He said, “Our public college and university chiefs of police are unanimous in their professional judgment that any law or policy that increases the prevalence of deadly weapons on campus makes those places where our friends and families go to work, attend school, and enjoy community with each other much less safe.”

Thompson added the current mental health crisis affecting students raises more concerns about guns on campuses.  He said, “we are concerned that an increased presence of guns could lead to higher rates of violence and suicide. When a gun is readily available, a suicide attempt can become significantly more lethal.”

When asked if any of the state’s college or universities support concealed carry on their campuses, Maddox explained, “Post-secondary institutions have been somewhat adversarial to this legislation, and so much is they wish to retain the ability to restrict firearms on campus.”

Stalker said no university had come forward to ask for this kind of legislation. “Not one educational institution has come to a lawmaker to say we’d really for you to make sure that people can conceal carry on our campuses,” she said.

Mitch Walker, chief of police at Western Kentucky University and president of the Kentucky Association of University Law Enforcement Administrators, spoke at the committee meeting. Walker told lawmakers his organization opposes the bill. In a letter to lawmakers, the organization stated that, “Any legislation allowing for the introduction of guns into the campus may create an unsecure campus environment.”

HB 542 must be read at least two mores times on the House floor before it can be voted on.