Texas univer­si­ties seek to curb law al­low­ing guns

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Katie Shep­herd katie.shep­herd@la­times.com

Just days af­ter the Texas Se­nate voted to le­gal­ize con­cealed guns on col­lege cam­puses, univer­sity of­fi­cials and op­po­nents of the bill are al­ready think­ing of ways to limit its reach.

Although some univer­sity fac­ulty mem­bers and stu­dents fought the bill that passed on Sun­day, many seem to have em­braced amend­ments that al­low schools to place some ar­eas on cam­puses off-lim­its to con­cealed weapons.

“While it is not what we had hoped for, I re­spect the Leg­is­la­ture’s de­ci­sion,” Univer­sity of Texas Chan­cel­lor Wil­liam H. McRaven said in a state­ment.

Se­nate Bill 11, which sailed through the Leg­is­la­ture by a 102-43 vote in the House and a 20-11 vote in the Se­nate, al­lows gun own­ers to carry firearms on cam­pus in class­rooms and dorms at state univer­si­ties.

Any­one who wants to have a gun on cam­pus must be prop­erly li­censed by the state, which re­quires gun own­ers to be at least 21 years old and pass a back­ground check and shoot­ing test.

Gov. Greg Ab­bott has said he will sign the mea­sure into law.

Crit­ics charged that con­cealed weapons pose a num­ber of safety con­cerns for univer­si­ties, where mass shoot­ings over the last decade have prompted in­sti­tu­tions to in­stall alert sys­tems to warn stu­dents and staff mem­bers of dan­ger. Propo- nents of the leg­is­la­tion say li­censed gun hold­ers will make cam­puses safer.

“Con­cealed hand­gun li­cense hold­ers are the safest, most re­spon­si­ble gun own­ers in Texas,” Sen. Donna Camp­bell, a Re­pub­li­can from cen­tral Texas, said in a state­ment. “It is ir­re­spon­si­ble on our part to dis­arm the good guys where vi­o­lent of­fend­ers dis­re­gard the law.”

Pro­po­nents of the leg­is­la­tion ar­gued it would drive down crime rates and give civil­ians the power to stop a gun­man on cam­pus.

“So far as I know, these claims are based en­tirely on anec­do­tal ev­i­dence,” said Wil­liam Spelman, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. John­son School of Pub­lic Af­fairs.

Spelman, who stud­ies crime pre­ven­tion and ur­ban pol­icy, said he had never seen an aca­demic study on cam­pus-carry laws and the role con­cealed weapons played, if any, in pre­vent­ing vi­o­lent crime at col­leges.

He said that rather than driv­ing down crime, con­cealed weapons would prob­a­bly lead to ac­ci­dents and higher rates of sui­cide at univer­si­ties across the state. Col­lege stu­dents may want to look at a gun out of cu­rios­ity or show one off to friends — a dan­ger­ous move that could cause some­one to ac­ci­den­tally get shot, Spelman said. Still, he said he thought his univer­sity is a safe cam­pus, even with the new per­mis­sive gun leg­is­la­tion.

“Very few peo­ple at the Univer­sity of Texas want to bring a gun to cam­pus,” he said. The new law “is mostly of rhetorical value for law­mak­ers. It makes them feel good and it makes their con­stituents feel good. It’s not go­ing to change much at UT.”

Some stu­dents spoke out against the cam­pus-carry mea­sure.

Ash­ley Al­can­tara, 20, a third-year stu­dent study­ing govern­ment at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, said she lob­bied with other mem­bers of the Univer­sity Democrats club to try to pre­vent the bill from be­com­ing law.

“We’re very con­cerned,” she said. “In the class­room there are times when con­ver­sa­tions can get heated. It changes the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment when there is that risk.”

Still, Al­can­tara said she was hope­ful that some of the lee­way in the leg­is­la­tion would al­low stu­dents to work with ad­min­is­tra­tors to en­sure that some ar­eas of cam­pus would re­main free of hand­guns — such as child­care, health­care and men­tal health fa­cil­i­ties — along with places where al­co­hol is con­sumed, such as out­side the foot­ball sta­dium where fans tailgate.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors agree that the leg­is­la­tion gives univer­si­ties free­dom to de­ter­mine when and where car­ry­ing a con­cealed weapon is and is not ap­pro­pri­ate on cam­pus.

“This sum­mer, I will be­gin work­ing with the UT Po­lice De­part­ment, stu­dents, fac­ulty, staff, stu­dent hous­ing of­fi­cials, the chan­cel­lor, and the Board of Re­gents to de­velop those pro­to­cols,” the univer­sity’s pres­i­dent de­signee, Gregory L. Fenves, said in a state­ment.

The law will go into ef­fect for Texas state univer­si­ties in Au­gust 2016, the same month that marks the 50th an­niver­sary of one of the first mass shoot­ings in U.S. his­tory.

Charles Whit­man, a former stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, climbed to the 28th f loor of the univer­sity tower and be­gan shoot­ing at stu­dents be­low on Aug. 1, 1966. He killed 16 peo­ple and wounded 32 oth­ers be­fore po­lice shot and killed him.

Texas joins seven other states that al­low guns on col­lege cam­puses. Stu­dents in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mis­sis­sippi, Ore­gon, Utah and Wis­con­sin can carry con­cealed guns on cam­pus prop­erty.

Most other states al­low in­di­vid­ual cam­puses to de­ter­mine whether stu­dents with proper li­censes should be able to carry their guns at school, and 19 states ban con­cealed guns at col­leges.

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