Lawmakers question gun and knife rules for UT students

August 28, 2012

By Tom Humphrey,

NASHVILLE — Some state legislators are questioning whether new student conduct rules at the University of Tennessee could lead to unwarranted disciplinary action against students who keep guns and knives for legitimate reasons.

“If I read it literally, this would ban most knives with blades 3 inches or longer. But we’re going to just trust the university’s judgment about which ones to take,” said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, in summarizing one proposed rule and UT officials’ explanation for enforcing it.

“I guess I would agree with that,” replied W. Timothy Rogers, vice chancellor for student life at UT Knoxville.

Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, recalled that he kept a shotgun, a pistol and “an assortment of knives” in a UT married student apartment during his student days, occasionally taking the shotgun across university property to his car for a hunting trip. He asked if that would put him in violation of the rules, even considering the apartment was his home.

“It would be a technical violation,” replied Matthew Scoggins, assistant general counsel for UT.

Scoggins and Rogers repeatedly assured the lawmakers that UT only cites students for violations of weapon rules when they go beyond simple possession, typically by threatening someone or causing harm.

“I’ve been involved in this for 37 years and have never processed a case that didn’t involve some ancillary violation,” said Rogers.

Scoggins said UT has not had a “substantial revision” of its student conduct rules since 1974 and the new rules, which will take effect next month, mostly amount to updating and clarifying things. There are some new provisions, such as a prohibition on surreptitiously recording another student when he or she has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

But the gun and knife rules, which UT officials said are basically the same as under existing standards, drew most of the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting of the Joint Government Operations Committee, composed of both House and Senate members.

Under state law, the Legislature must sign off on all new rules promulgated by state agencies, and the Government Operations Committee conducts a review of proposed rules.

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