State Politics

Your community college classmate might have more than a laptop in his backpack

You can carry a gun to community colleges in Texas as of Aug. 1

Concealed handguns are legal at community colleges in Texas - for those with a license to carry - as of Aug. 1.
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Concealed handguns are legal at community colleges in Texas - for those with a license to carry - as of Aug. 1.

Community college life in Texas changes Aug. 1, when — for the first time — guns will be allowed on campus.

That means anyone with a handgun license will be able to carry concealed weapons into classrooms, libraries, offices and most areas on community college campuses, including parking garages and lots.

Some areas on campus will be off-limits, and colleges such as Tarrant County College have already put up signs designating gun-free zones.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” said Leslie Galey, a 53-year-old Burleson woman helping her son register recently for his first semester at TCC’s South Campus.

But her 18-year-old son, Joel, said he doesn’t.

“I believe in the Second Amendment right of people allowed to bear arms,” he said. “So I don’t have an issue with people who feel like they would be safer if they had a firearm on them.”

This is the last piece of the campus carry law passed by state lawmakers in 2015 that allowed concealed handguns at public colleges in Texas.

Guns were allowed at most four-year public colleges in Texas last year, and local officials say they haven’t seen any problems.

Now the law goes into effect at junior colleges, which were given an extra year to prepare.

They’ve had meetings and public forums, reviewed feedback, crafted plans for dealing with the law and updated signs around campus to reflect the policy change.

“The safety of our students and faculty and staff is paramount,” said Reginald Gates, vice chancellor for communications and external affairs at TCC. “We are confident we can have our campuses remain safe.”

Gates stressed that no rifles or other prohibited weapons are allowed on campus. And open carry is not allowed on any Texas college campus.

TCC rules

The rules of campus carry are the same at all TCC campuses.

Restricted areas include theater and performance halls, as well as areas where there are health services, testing services, counseling services, physical education, early college high school area programs and child care facilities, particularly on the Northeast Campus.

Concealed handguns won’t be allowed in areas that house the Tarrant County College Police Department.

And they won’t be allowed at certain events on campus — no matter where they are — such as temporary polling sites or areas where TCC trustee meetings, or any other governmental meetings, are held.

Other off-limits spots include areas used to house UIL events and any place where discipline or grievance hearings, or appeals proceedings, are conducted.

At TCC, no gun storage facilities will be provided. And common areas ranging from lockers to cabinets to closets may not be used to store handguns.

But simulated firearms for use in theatrical performances will be allowed, as long as campus police approve.

Gates said a Campus Carry committee reviewed safety issues and recommendations and TCC trustees signed off on the plan.

Ruby Rios, a 24-year-old Fort Worth woman who works at TCC’s Trinity River Campus downtown, said the biggest concern is the safety of students, faculty and workers.

“We want to be prepared for everything,” said Rios, who has a License to Carry. “Of course we live in the great state of Texas. ... I do feel like maybe this is a precaution.”

She said she doesn’t plan to carry her gun on campus when the new law first goes into effect. But if she sees a need, she will start.

“We just have to keep an open mind, and keep in mind that the reason they are doing this is our safety,” Rios said. “It’s better to be prepared.”

Legislative changes

Texas lawmakers in 2015 approved campus carry, letting License to Carry holders carry their concealed handguns on many college campuses. They also approved open carry, which lets licensed Texans openly carry their handguns in many areas across the state, but not on college campuses.

Under the campus carry law, private colleges such as TCU and Texas Wesleyan University were allowed to opt out of the law, and both of those did. Public universities such as the University of Texas at Arlington and Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth were allowed to designate gun-free zones on part but not all of the campus, which they did.

“I actually feel that ... [the new law is] perfectly fine,” said Stephanie Crabtree, a 29-year-old Burleson woman and student at TCC’s South Campus. “It’s a Second Amendment right that we have.

“I personally don’t carry or have a license,” she said. “But as long as there are laws and rules, ... I have no problem with it.”

Nearly 1.2 million Texans — including 83,508 in Tarrant County — have a License to Carry, state records show.

The only people legally allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus are those who have a License To Carry, which means they are at least 21, have a clear criminal record and no record of mental illness. They also have met requirements that include training and proficiency tests.

In Texas, nearly 1.2 million people — including 83,508 in Tarrant County — have such a license, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records.

A look around

In the year that campus carry has been in effect at four-year universities, officials at local campuses say they haven’t seen any problems.

At the Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth, for instance, guns are allowed in most places.

“The first year of campus carry at the law school has been smooth and uneventful,” said Aric Short, a vice dean at the law school. “As we expected, our community has acted responsibly and professionally when it comes to campus carry.”

campus carry 1
Students at the University of Texas campus protested the state’s plan to allow students with concealed handgun licenses to legally carry on campus. The law for community colleges goes into effect Aug. 1. Ralph Barrera Archive photo from Austisn American-Statesman via AP

At UTA, concealed carry is allowed on most of the campus but not in areas such as those where formal hearings on issues ranging from employee discipline to student conduct are held. Officials there say “no concealed-carry related sightings have happened on campus.”

“We believe our extensive education efforts and feedback from the campus were instrumental in a smooth implementation of campus carry at UTA,” said Sana Syed, a UTA spokeswoman.

Likewise, no problems have been reported at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, where concealed carry is allowed in many areas but not where pediatric services are performed or sites where student disciplinary proceedings are being held.

“We haven’t had any violations or incidents related to campus carry,” said Jeff Carlton, a spokesman for UNTHSC.

Gates said he believes the new law won’t cause disruptions or problems on TCC campuses.

As students head back for the fall semester, officials plan to make sure everyone knows what the new law allows.

“We will start communicating when they start coming back,” Gates said.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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