Texas universities brace for concealed guns in campus buildings

Carrying concealed weapons in campus buildings will be legal in Texas as of next summer, but that doesn’t mean the debate is over: Opponents are trying to forestall enforcement by creating gun-free zones.

The law’s effective date, Aug. 1, is also the 50th anniversary of a mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin that left 14 people dead and 32 wounded.

The Austin campus has also become the epicenter of a movement against implementing the law.

On Tuesday, about 200 demonstrators from Gun Free UT rallied on campus. Speakers included the sister of one of 20 children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Chase Jennings — founder of Texas Students for Concealed Carry chapters at UT Austin, the University of Houston and Texas A&M University — calls foes of the law “alarmists” who are “trying to get people riled up.”

Gun-free zones go against the “spirit of the law” and won’t make people safer, he said. Opponents “want the illusion of safety.”

Texas is among eight states that allow concealed carrying of weapons on public college campuses. The others are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Similar measures are being debated in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a law last month banning concealed guns on school campuses, and 18 other states had already banned concealed guns on college campuses.

Texas has allowed those licensed to carry concealed weapons to take them on campuses for 20 years — just not inside buildings. More than 800 University of Texas professors have added their names to a list opposing guns in classrooms, and more than 8,000 people have signed a separate petition. A UT Austin economics professor resigned last month to protest the law, worried about teaching students who might be armed.

Some demonstrators who gathered Tuesday said they were emboldened by the chancellor of the eight-campus system, William H. McRaven, who has spoken out against the law. McRaven, a former Navy SEAL, has said he does not think it will protect students.

Christina Adams, 54, recalled selling “Gun Free UT” T-shirts on parents weekend when McRaven approached.

“He came up to us and talked to us and said we were doing the right thing,” said Adams, whose husband is a professor at the university and whose eldest son is a freshman. “We know McRaven is on our side. I don’t know how tied his hands are. The fact is, he will take into account the recommendations of the president of each campus.”

This fall, UT Austin President Gregory Fenves convened a 19-member working group of faculty, students and other advisors that held public meetings and is scheduled to make recommendations by early December. But officials say the UT system’s board of regents will decide how the campus-carry law is implemented.

Max Snodderly, a neuroscience professor, attended the UT Austin working group’s September meeting, where he spoke, met Gun Free UT organizers and decided to push for change through activism.

“Having guns on campus is an extremely bad idea. It’s an encroachment on academic freedom,” and a danger to students at risk of suicide, Snodderly said in an interview.

“The president has a great deal of discretion in terms of areas that can be designed as gun-free on campus,” he said. “We are urging the president to implement gun-free zones in classrooms, dormitories and offices.”

This week, the group announced it had retained an attorney from the National Lawyers Guild.

“We hope the administration will be cooperative,” Snodderly said. “The law is very vague, and it’s the implementation that’s going to make a difference.”

Snodderly said shootings this year that left one dead at Texas Southern University and 10 dead at a community college in Oregon “have heightened public awareness of the dangers of the gun culture.”

“We don’t feel more guns is the answer,” he said.

Supporters of the campus-carry law disagree. Jennings says some universities, such as Texas A&M, are taking it in stride, but “others, like UT, are acting like the sky is falling.”

Jennings accepts that university officials may restrict guns in some spaces, such as laboratories with flammable materials or areas where alcohol is served. But he and other supporters plan to ensure that universities don’t go too far.

“We’re just trying to make sure the schools are being fair and obeying the law,” he said.

Restricting concealed carry after the new law means “taking away a deterrent,” Jennings said. “A person should have a right to defend themselves on campus like they do everywhere else.”


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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


7:27 p.m.: The story was updated throughout with new details.

The story was first published at 1:24 p.m.