Politics & Government

TCU says no to concealed handguns on campus

TCU student backs school's decision to ban campus carry

One student weighs in on TCU's decision to opt out of campus carry. (Video by Anna M. Tinsley/Star-Telegram)
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One student weighs in on TCU's decision to opt out of campus carry. (Video by Anna M. Tinsley/Star-Telegram)

Concealed handguns won’t be allowed on Texas Christian University’s private college campus next year.

That’s what TCU’s Board of Trustees decided Friday, after reviewing recommendations from students, faculty and Chancellor Victor Boschini.

“It was quite clear that no matter which side of the issue each person felt was best, all cared deeply about the safety of the community,” said Kathy Cavins-Tull, vice chancellor for student affairs.

TCU’s decision — the first made by a large private college in Texas — comes as private colleges across Texas are trying to answer the same question: Should they allow concealed handguns to be carried on their campus?

A number of students on campus Friday afternoon praised the board’s decision; none spoke against it.

Hunter Stevens said the issue of whether TCU should allow guns on campus has been a tough one for him.

“I’m a huge fan of rights, gun rights especially,” the 19-year-old sophomore from Dallas said. “But the university has the right” to ban guns.

“I’m not sure if I trust people my age to handle guns,” he said. “A lot would do fine, but it only takes one bad apple.”

TCU officials say TCU police patrol the campus 24 hours a day and have 28 licensed officers on staff.

Next year, Texas becomes one of eight states allowing concealed weapons to be carried on some college campuses, along with Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Similar proposals are being considered in other states.

The issue of where, or whether, to allow concealed handguns at colleges statewide has been heating up since lawmakers passed a measure this year known as “campus carry,” letting licensed Texans carry concealed handguns into buildings at public universities starting next August and at community colleges in 2017.

Private colleges such as TCU and Texas Wesleyan University may opt out, and public universities may create gun-free zones on part, but not all, of the campus. Texas Wesleyan is expected to make a decision in January.

It’s “unfortunate that [the Texas Legislature] did not trust public universities enough to give them the same freedom to decide themselves,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, tweeted Friday afternoon.

Southern Methodist University officials have said guns won’t be allowed on campus, although they also said recently that they are still gathering feedback on the issue.

A handful of smaller universities have weighed in as well, with officials saying guns will likely still be prohibited at Austin College in Sherman, Paul Quinn College in Dallas and Trinity University in San Antonio.

A separate measure allowing licensed Texans to openly carry holstered handguns throughout the state takes effect Jan. 1 but does not apply to college campuses.

The issue

Texans with concealed handgun licenses have been able to carry on college campuses, but not in buildings, since lawmakers approved the concealed handgun law 20 years ago, lawmakers say.

This new measure lets them carry them into dorms or classrooms, instead of requiring them to take their handguns back to their vehicles before entering the buildings.

The only people legally allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus are those who have a concealed handgun permit, meaning they are at least 21 and have met requirements including training and proficiency tests.

There’s such power behind [a gun]. You don’t want the wrong person to have that.

Delaney Saragusa, an 18-year-old TCU freshman from Austin

Gun-Free UT, a group of mostly professors, has been asking leaders at the University of Texas in Austin to keep guns out of the classrooms — or professors might sue, saying the law infringes on their rights.

Students for Concealed Carry said Friday they don’t have any problem with TCU’s decision.

“We think that’s their right to do that and we have no objection because they are a private university,” said Mike Newbern, assistant director of public relations for the national group. “We have never advocated to force a private property owner to do something they don’t want to do.

“We respect their rights.”

Officials at public colleges have said the plan could cost nearly $50 million in coming years — because additional officers, training, storage facilities and security technology would be needed — and that expense that might be passed to students.

UT System Chancellor William McRaven has said he worries that concealed handguns will make campuses less safe because stress and guns are a bad mix.

Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp has said he has “complete trust and faith” in his students and professors, which is why Texas A&M didn’t oppose campus carry. And UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson has noted that the law might negatively affect a “younger than average population, some living away from home for the first time.”

About 850,000 Texans have concealed handgun licenses.

TCU’s decision

Cavins-Tull said Friday’s decision came after eight weeks of discussions on campus, including a debate and various forums.

“There was a lot of discussion on our campus,” she said, adding that officials received comments supporting both opting out and opting in.

Some students supporting the right to bear arms argued that they should be allowed to protect themselves on campus. Others worried about accidents, mental health issues and whether the possible presence of guns would impact the ability of professors and students to freely express opinions.

“Overall, students in college shouldn’t be able to carry a gun,” said Delaney Saragusa, an 18-year-old freshman from Austin. “College is emotional and transitional.

“There’s such power behind [a gun],” she said. “You don’t want the wrong person to have that.”

Alex Smith, a 20-year-old sophomore from Nashville, said he believes TCU made the right decision.

“Alcohol is so commonplace on college campuses,” he said. “Mixing that with guns is a recipe for disaster.”

College officials noted Friday that TCU police patrol the campus 24 hours a day and, in addition to the 28 licensed officers on staff, there are a variety of security measures around campus including emergency call stations (blue light call boxes), police escorts and more.

The majority of the responses received about this issue, Cavins-Tull said, supported opting out of campus carry at TCU.

“People were concerned that guns, or the perception of guns, would challenge the culture here of a very open community.”

Now, Cavins-Tull said, begins the process of determining what the college needs to formally do to opt out of campus carry.

But the issue isn’t completely over, she said.

“It has given us some reason to want to continue the conversation.”

One student weighs in on TCU's decision to opt out of campus carry. (Video by Anna M. Tinsley/Star-Telegram)

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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