Texas Campus Carry Law Takes Effect, Students, Faculty on Edge
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on August 18, 2016 at 6:33 pm
As Texas’ Campus Carry Law takes effect this month, allowing students and faculty members to carry concealed weapons for the first time, emotions remain high. That’s particularly true at the University of Texas at Austin, where Charles Whitman climbed the school’s clock tower 50 years ago and unleashed a barrage of bullets that left 14 dead and 30 wounded.
Students and faculty within the university system are divided. The new law law has generated protests, the retirement of a Texas A&M professor and threats of punishments against educators who try to ban firearms from their classrooms.
But despite what pro-gun supporters term hysteria about a law that already stands in several states, the campus carry law is only going to apply to a small portion of the student population in Texas. It’s likely to keep parents, faculty and students on edge, but experts say the campus carry law could turn out to be a non-event, at least if history provides any guidance.
“The topic generates a lot of interest nationally and usually a lot of people have concerns,” says Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, the non-profit campus safety organization. “But beyond that we haven’t seen much impact. We’re not seeing a dire situation because of it.”
Schools across the state have been preparing for this law for about a year now, but the number of students who actually can bring a concealed weapon into a public college or university is limited to those older than 21. Even then, they have to complete a state-certified concealed carry training course, further reducing the pool.
Private schools and colleges don’t have to adhere to the rule. Some public schools, including the University of Texas at Austin, restrict carrying concealed guns in portions of residence halls and in several buildings on campus. In a letter to students, faculty and parents, Bob Harkins, the university’s campus security head, laid out the college’s stance on the law: “Many people on campus have strong viewpoints about the new law, and we understand those passions. However, regardless of your opinion about the legislation, you are required to follow the laws laid out by the State of Texas, and the policies of The University of Texas at Austin,” he said in the letter.
Texas joins seven other states with campus carry laws
Texas joins Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin in allowing people to carry guns in campus buildings. But the Lone Star State’s law goes into effect on the heels of the Orlando Nightclub shooting and the fatal shootings of five Dallas police officers, resulting in raw nerves on both sides. “Texas is getting a lot of media attention, which I find interesting because it’s not the first state to ever do this,” says Michael Newbern, a spokesman for Students For Concealed Carry. “In every other state that currently practices it, there has been no consqeuneces. A lot of people are really upset about all the possibilities, but in the end, it never happens.”
Use of force decisions a big concern
Statically, there hasn’t been a huge impact from the other states that allow concealed weapons on campuses. But for students and faculty already worried about active-shooter situations or lone-wolf terrorist attacks, the past doesn’t provide solace. They argue that allowing guns on campus puts everyone at risk and can prevent open debate out of fear of getting shot.
Another worry, Dorn says, is someone mishandling his or her firearm and accidentally shooting another person in the name of self-defense. “There’s big concerns about whether or not people carrying guns on campus have the ability to make the use of force decision,” Dorn says. Drawing a gun during an active shooting situation is going to be clear cut, but there are times when someone may perceive a threat when it really isn’t there. “For every active shooter you have thousands of other types of weapon events on campus. If you carry a weapon on a campus setting, you are probably making use force decisions on some other type of situations.”
For the families of victims of gun violence and the students, faculty and parents who are against concealed firearms in college settings, just one act of violence with a gun is too many. And while it was by accident that the law went into effect on Aug. 1, the anniversary of the University of Texas shooting, it wasn’t lost on anti-gun groups.
In a statement on its website, KeepGunsOffCampus.org had this to say: “Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the library tower shooting at the University of Texas at Austin, where one man, a 25-year-old military veteran and student, climbed the library tower on campus with rifles, handguns, and shotguns, and shot 49 people, killing 14 (earlier in the day he also killed two family members). It is uncertain exactly why he committed this heinous act, but 50 years later, we still face the threat of mass shootings—a threat exacerbated by a new law permitting concealed carry of handguns on campus.”