On Aug. 1, 2016—the 50th anniversary of the Charles Whitman UT Tower shooting—Senate Bill 11 will go into effect, making it legal for concealed handgun licensees to pack heat on Texas campuses. What exactly that will look like on the Forty Acres remains an open question, and one that has provoked intense emotions from all sides. Here’s an overview of what’s happening around the contentious issue of campus carry at UT-Austin.
This is the first time we’ll have guns on campus, right?
Not exactly. Since 1995, concealed handgun licensees have been legally permitted to carry on the grounds of Texas public universities—just not indoors. Now handguns will be allowed in buildings as well.
Where will guns be allowed at UT-Austin?
We don’t know yet. The bill allows universities to establish “reasonable rules” and other campus-specific regulations about where guns are permitted, as long as those regulations do not have the effect of “generally prohibiting” concealed handguns. The gray area lies in how you choose to define “reasonable” and “generally prohibitive.” Opponents of the legislation are pushing for the most restrictive interpretation possible, gun-rights advocates are asking for a looser approach, and others fall somewhere in the middle.
UT president Greg Fenves has convened a 19-member Campus Carry Working Group to gather feedback and offer recommendations on how best to implement the law. That group is expected to make its recommendations by early December. The Board of Regents will have the final say in approving or amending UT-Austin’s policies.
How many guns are we talking about?
At two public forums on the topic, UT Law professor and working group chair Steven Goode stressed that more than half of UT-Austin students will be too young to apply for concealed handgun licenses. With the exception of military veterans, Texans must be 21 or older to receive a license. “We will not have massive numbers of students with concealed handguns,” Goode said. Across the state, roughly 1.5 percent of people aged 20-25 hold concealed handgun licenses.
Goode also sought to clarify the difference between open carry and concealed carry. Another bill passed by the 84th Legislature, House Bill 910, broadens the ability to carry handguns openly across the state—but it does not apply to college campuses.
What are Longhorns saying about this issue?
At each of two public forums in the Texas Union, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 5, more than 30 faculty members, students, staff, alumni, and parents shared their opinions. At least for now, opponents of campus carry have been the most vocal group, with the majority sharing concerns and worries and only a few speaking in favor of gun rights. More than 3,700 people have signed an online petition titled “No Guns in Our Classrooms – Gun-Free UT.”
An Oct. 2 rally organized by Gun-Free UT, an ad-hoc faculty organization speaking out against guns on campus, attracted a small group of counter-protestors from the College Republicans and other pro-gun groups.
Below, we’ve rounded up a range of perspectives that Longhorns shared at the public forums:
“Statistics show that CHL-holders are the most law-abiding members of our society. Gun safety has to be first and foremost. Every time a gun is handled increases the risk, so forcing people to put guns in lockers outside of classrooms is a bad idea.”
—Tina Maldonado, UT staff member, concealed handgun licensee, and firearms instructor
“This will put a chill on debate … Faculty will think twice before offering classes on controversial topics like racism, slavery, and colonialism. It will become a recruitment and retainment nightmare.”
—Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, history professor
“As a black woman, my body is often viewed as a threat. This rhetoric around self-defense makes me very uncomfortable.”
—Christle Nwora, student
“We are not vigilantes. We are not a danger to this campus. We are not the bad guys you read about in the news. CHL-holders are trustworthy with a firearm.”
—Justin Stone, student
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