College life is about to take a whole new twist in Texas.
Starting Monday, Texas joins more than half a dozen other states that allow concealed handguns to be carried at some colleges.
Even though fall classes don’t begin for a couple of weeks, signs are now posted at Texas colleges laying out the new law of the land — campus carry — and noting whether guns are off-limits or not.
“I think we are ready,” said Aric Short, a vice dean at the Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth, who was among those working on the campus carry policy for the A&M System during the past year.
“It’s a very emotional and somewhat controversial issue, so people are going to disagree about how to implement it and whether the law was appropriate in the first place.”
College officials have spent the past year studying the issue and developing plans. They’ve held meetings and public forums, crafted plans on dealing with the law and updated student and faculty handbooks and signs around campus to reflect the policy.
Public universities such as the University of Texas at Arlington were allowed to designate gun-free zones on part but not all of the campus, which they did.
“The first few months will be tense, as law enforcement, administrators and gun carriers sort out the process and get used to the idea,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, one of many schools that will allow campus carry.
“After that, short of some high-profile incident, most people will forget about it.”
The issue of concealed handguns at colleges has long ricocheted through the Texas Capitol, although they didn’t get approved until last year under legislation sponsored by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress.
Lawmakers passed two key gun measures in 2015 — one allowing licensed Texans to openly carry their handguns around the state and one allowing licensed Texans to carry concealed handguns into buildings at public universities.
Open carry is not allowed at colleges.
“Texans can be assured that their Second Amendment rights will be stronger and more secure than ever before,” Gov. Greg Abbott said last year when he signed the gun proposals into law.
Supporters say campus carry lets students, faculty and visitors defend and protect themselves. Critics worry that allowing guns at colleges can be dangerous and create a culture of fear.
“I just feel that the time has come for us to protect the men and women of Texas who are carrying concealed on our campuses,” Fletcher said last year.
The only people legally allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus are those who have a license to carry, meaning they are at least 21 and have met requirements including training and proficiency tests.
Campus carry takes effect at community colleges in Texas on Aug. 1, 2017.
In Texas, more than 1 million people, including 75,103 in Tarrant County, have a license to carry, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records.
Ready or not...
Some Texans are ready for this law.
“We’re happy to see progress,” said Michael Newbern, assistant director of public relations for Students for Concealed Carry, created in 2007 after the Virginia Tech shooting. “This law will allow a law-abiding citizen the right to practice the same method of self-defense they do in any other nonsecure location.”
He and othe proponents say that many people have long predicted that the sky would fall if guns were allowed in certain places, including colleges.
“They make the same prediction every time we restore the right to carry concealed handguns and they don’t come true,” Newbern said. “In every state where campus carry is lawful, there have been no demonstrable negative impacts to crime, safety or the freedom to express ideas.”
On the other hand, Julie Gavran has fought campus carry in Texas — organizing rallies and protests, testifying at public hearings and more — for years.
This is personal to her, since she was held at gunpoint in her dormitory when she was an undergraduate at the Ohio Dominican University in 1999.
“I think there will be apprehension that many students, faculty, and staff will have” in Texas, said Gavran, western director of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus.
“The idea of campus carry has been shoved down our throats now, and with all the recent violence in America (and around the world), many people are more cautious than normal.”
Now a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Dallas, Gavran encourages Texas college students to speak up about the issue.
“Report any suspicious behavior to police and if you know of any student who has been depressed or talking about committing a violent act, seek assistance from campus authorities,” she said. “The aim is to prevent these acts of violence, not react to them with deadly force.”
During hearings at Texas Wesleyan last year, some students argued for the ability to protect themselves — whether in crowded classrooms or walking to class at night.
“I fear for my life … when I go to class every day,” said Alcira Katagiri, then a junior from Arlington. “Why not give us the possibility, the potential, to defend ourselves?”
Students realize that security guards and police are on campus to help, but they also know that guards can’t be everywhere all the time, Caleb Mitchell, a graduate student from Longview, told Wesleyan officials last year.
He mentioned a class he had with more than 100 students in a Wesleyan classroom that has one door.
“If someone were to walk in there, we are sitting ducks,” Mitchell said. “By the time someone got there [to help], we all would be gone.”
On the other hand, TCU senios Ryker Thompson said he’s glad he won’t have to worry about guns on campus.
He said he knows that the issue was a concern to some students, but he didn’t realize it was a worry for future TCU Frogs until a prospective student last year asked what the campus’s gun policy was.
“He had previously attended a high school affected by a school shooting,” said Thompson, 21, of Stephenville. “He was very relieved to hear TCU had opted out of campus carry because he really wanted to come to TCU but didn’t feel comfortable attending a school with a campus carry policy.”
Katie Phillips said she knows that many people at public universities are concerned about campus carry.
“I have several friends at Texas Tech and University of Texas at Austin who are very concerned with how the allowance of guns on campus will impact community culture both inside and outside the classroom,” said Phillips, 21, a TCU student from Pebble Beach, Calif.
Public Texas universities have moved forward with accommodating guns on campus.
In addition to putting signs up spelling out the policy at each campus, officials are proceeding with, for instance, storage for guns.
Officials at the University of North Texas in Denton have installed lockboxes to hold concealed handguns. Most of the boxes are expected to be placed in dorms to make sure the guns stay safe.
All this comes even as lawsuits have been filed over the law, such as the recent challenge three UT professors made when they sued the college and the state over this law, asking a federal judge to set aside the law.
“Compelling professors at a public university to allow, without any limitation or restriction, students to carry concealed guns in their classrooms chills their First Amendment rights to academic freedom,” the lawsuit stated.
They aren’t the only professors concerned about guns, particularly those that might be brought into their offices.
“Most faculty members know it’s coming,” said Tom Marshall, a political science professor at UT Arlington. “Maybe in a year or two it might not amount to much. But I don’t think there’s support on campus for this.”
In fact, he has heard that some UTA professors may soon have “virtual” office hours, where they can Skype from a gun-free environment with students who need their assistance.
“These are times when sensitivity to handguns and shooting is very high in America,” he said.
State lawmakers last year approved a measure letting concealed handguns be carried on some college campuses. Private universities have the right to opt out of the law; public universities may designate limited “gun-free” zones on their campuses. Campus carry goes into effect at community colleges in Texas on Aug. 1, 2017. Open carry is not allowed on any Texas college campus.
Here’s a look at what’s allowed at some of the larger college campuses in Tarrant County:
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary has opted out of the Campus Carry law, but certain individuals are allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus after undergoing a review process and receiving written approval. Officials decline to say how many people have received approval to carry concealed handguns, but they note that anyone who receives permission has been interviewed by the campus police chief and proved their proficiency at the gun range.
Tarleton-Fort Worth. This local campus is on rented space in different parts of town, from a building on Camp Bowie Boulevard to laboratories and public health programs in the medical district. Guns are not allowed in the building rented from the Hickman Companies at 6777 Camp Bowie Blvd., which houses the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Texans with a License to Carry may tote concealed handguns where the college holds its Medical Laboratory Science and Public Health programs in the Fort Worth Medical District, 1501 Enderly Place, unless formal disciplinary or student conduct hearings are being held there.
Tarrant County College. Campus Carry doesn’t go into effect at junior colleges until 2017. So far, the college has formed a Campus Carry Committee, said Reginald Gates, TCC’s vice chancellor for communications and external affairs.
Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth. The college’s campus on Commerce Street follows Texas A&M University’s general rule — guns are allowed in most areas on campus. There are a few exceptions. Guns are not allowed in law clinical facilities. Also, as with other Texas A&M campuses, guns would not be allowed in employee offices at the law school if an employee has requested and been granted approval from the president of the university. Any areas at the law school where formal administrative hearings/investigations are underway would be gun-free zones.
Texas Christian University. Officials with this private college in Fort Worth last year decided that concealed handguns would not be allowed on college campus. “The Board of Trustees voted today to opt out of participation in SB 11,” a Nov. 13, 2015, statement read. “As a result of this vote, the University’s policy prohibiting guns on campus remains in effect.”
Texas Wesleyan University. President Frederick G. Slabach earlier this year decided concealed handguns wouldn’t be allowed on this private college campus. Signs have been put up across campus, at entrances and various visitor parking lots, notifying visitors, professors and students alike. “Texas Wesleyan’s current weapons policy will not change and our campus will remain gun free,” Slabach’s Jan. 22 letter stated.
University of North Texas Health Science Center. Concealed carry by a licensed person is allowed in many areas, including parking lots and parking garages. However, guns are not allowed on parts of this Fort Worth campus. That includes areas where pediatric services are performed, such as the Pediatric Mobile Clinic, as well as locations where student disciplinary proceedings are being conducted. The future daycare center on Modlin Avenue, which has yet to open, is also off limits. Campus carry will be prohibited in exam rooms and clinical areas at the Patient Care Center, which provides medical care, although they are allowed in the lobbies, waiting rooms, public restrooms and other areas of the center. Campus carry is allowed in most other areas, except in the rare times where a room is being used for voting or worship.
University of Texas at Arlington. Concealed carry is allowed on most of the campus, but not in areas, for instance, where formal hearings — on issues ranging from student conduct to employee discipline — are held. They’ll be off-limits in areas where psychological services (third floor of Ransom Hall) or health care (Health Services Building) are provided. Other areas banned include: the Center for Clinical Social Work, which offers mental health services for children and adults; the Transforming Lives Child Development Center, which provides child care services; and the Maverick Activities Center, Physical Education Building and areas where summer campers stay in UTA-owned dorms during the summer. Other gun free zones include the College Park Center, Maverick Stadium, Allan Saxe Field and Clay Gould Ballpark, areas where professional, NCAA or UIL sporting events are held. There will be no on-campus storage for weapons provided by UTA.
Sources: Texas Christian University, Texas Wesleyan University, University of Texas at Arlington, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Texas County College, Tarleton-Fort Worth, Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth.