- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers during a Monday House committee hearing weighed proposals that would expand gun access on college campuses by allowing people to carry concealed firearms.

The bills are among several introduced this year by state Republican lawmakers, who have argued that students should be allowed to carry firearms for self-defense and that armed, law-abiding citizens with proper training can save lives during attempted mass shootings.

“Why are we taking an individual’s right away to protect themselves on campus?” said Nixa Republican Rep. Jered Taylor, who is sponsoring one of the bills.

Under both House proposals, colleges and universities could apply for an exemption to ban concealed carry.

To receive permission from the state Department of Higher Education to ban concealed carry of firearms, schools would need to staff every door of every building with armed security and metal detectors. Those entering would be screened, and higher education institutions would need to provide a safe space to store weapons.

Unlike Lamar Republican Rep. Mike Kelley’s legislation, Taylor’s bill would only apply to public colleges and universities and includes exceptions for areas on campus with grade school children, some sporting events and hospitals.

University administrators have criticized efforts to expand gun access on campuses, saying it’s dangerous given binge drinking and mental health issues among college students.

Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, said Monday that no public campuses in Missouri allow for concealed carry of firearms and said the security requirements are not a viable alternative because of costs.

Legislative researchers estimate Kelley’s bill would cost at least $991 million for the first year for schools to meet the security requirements needed to receive an exemption. Another estimate shows no costs associated with Taylor’s legislation.

College students spoke both for and against the measures during the Monday hearing.

“We do not believe that your pursuit of a higher education should endanger your life,” said Jake Buxton, chairman of the Missouri Federation of College Republicans who attends Truman State University.

Doug Witt, a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia and chairman of the College Democrats of Missouri, raised doubts about whether training for concealed-carry permits is adequate to prepare gun holders for mass shootings and questioned why the measures are some lawmakers’ “first reaction to prevent gun violence on campus.”

A Senate panel heard testimony on two similar bills in January. The measures also drew broad opposition from university administrators, and they have not yet received a committee vote.

Committee chairman Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said he might hold a vote to send Taylor’s bill to the full House but that could be delayed for weeks.

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