State Rep. Tony Cornish seeks changes to University policy banning guns on campus


A state legislator wants to allow students and faculty to conceal and carry handguns on college campuses.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, plans to introduce legislation this week that would allow anyone who is 21 years old and has a handgun permit to carry a gun on campus. His proposal is part of a wave of pro- and anti- gun legislation introduced recently throughout the U.S.

Cornish believes campuses are not well-prepared to respond to emergency situations like a mass shooting.

“The only policy the University of Minnesota has right now is ‘run, hide, and die,’” he said. “Everybody agrees that the best way to prevent a shooter is a good guy on the scene with a firearm.”

Cornish, who authored the state’s original conceal and carry bill, said he expects strong opposition and it’s likely his bill won’t pass.

“I expect a huge outcry from the colleges,” he said.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness doesn’t think Cornish’s proposal is necessary.

“Very rarely do we run across firearms on campus,” Hestness said. “Few people have requested the right to carry on campus. The University put that policy into place for special circumstances.”

In 2003, the Board of Regents adopted its current policy, which bans guns, with a few exceptions.

“The Board of Regents thought it essential that everybody be able to feel safe on campus,” said University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg.

Under the policy, law enforcement and military personnel can carry, along with those in military training and those who receive presidential approval.

Hestness’s greatest concern with firearms on campus has to do with an individual’s decisions.

“It has more to do with judgment, when you should and should not fire your weapon,” he said. “I would be concerned that the judgment training would be inadequate.”

Cornish will also draft a bill allowing 21-year-olds with a handgun permit to carry guns inside K-12 schools after providing the administration with written notification.

“The K-12 carry will be modeled exactly after the Capitol,” he said. “In other words, if you notify the principal or superintendent that you’re going to be carrying, then you can carry.”

The 10-year legislator hopes to introduce both bills this week.

University political science professor Wendy Rahn said she expects significant pushback if Cornish’s bills pass.

“My gut instinct would be that representatives who represent legislative districts where there are more gun owners would be more supportive of this,” she said. “I would imagine that there would be lobbying against it from gun control advocates and maybe even the University.”

Cornish foresees the same hurdles.

“Rather than admitting that they can’t do anything to prevent a tragedy from coming to them, [colleges will] say they have it under control,” Cornish said. “They’re going to have cameras and secure doors. But there’s no way you can make a college totally secure.”

Because of the University’s autonomy from the state, even if Cornish’s bills were passed into law, the Board of Regents wouldn’t have to revise their current policy to adhere to them.

“The Board of Regents has the power to govern free from legislative control,” Rotenberg said.

The University’s weapon policy is pretty similar to other Big Ten schools.

According to their campus website, the University of Wisconsin-Madison does not allow students or staff to carry on campus unless the carrier is granted permission by the campus dean.

Similarly, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln prohibits anyone aside from authorized personnel from carrying guns on campus.

To get a conceal and carry permit, one has to apply for the permit with the local police department, undergo a background check and go through range training with a state-certified instructor, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety website.

A permit doesn’t allow someone to carry at a private establishment that has posted a ban sign, or at public colleges and universities that have a no-guns policy in place.

The campus carry and the K-12 carry bills will join another bill Cornish already authored this legislative session.

Cornish, who was a peace officer for 32 years, introduced a bill that would allow retired officers to carry without a permit.

For the time being, Rotenberg doesn’t see the Regents reviewing their weapons policy.

“I haven’t heard any recent discussion over the weapons policy,” he said, “but I will say that when it was established in 2003, it was the result of a unanimous decision.”

Child psychology freshman Hannah Grunewald said she opposes Cornish’s bill.

“I believe in the right to bear arms, but [Cornish’s bill] sounds kind of scary,” Grunewald said. “I think people can be a little dramatic about regulation. It’s not like your rights are being taken away, it’s just making guns safer for everyone.”

Political science and global studies sophomore Shaili Zappa also said she wouldn’t support such a bill.

“It offends me, especially after so many shootings have taken place across the U.S. in the last few years,” Zappa said. “Those shootings just prove that we need more gun control.”