Other Voices

Campus carry at community colleges threatens early-college high schoolers

University of Texas at Austin Anthropology professor Pauline Strong posts a sign prohibiting guns at her office on the first day of the new campus-carry law Monday, Aug. 1, 2016.
University of Texas at Austin Anthropology professor Pauline Strong posts a sign prohibiting guns at her office on the first day of the new campus-carry law Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. AP

As many Texans are already aware, campus carry went into effect for public universities last year.

This coming August, community colleges will be expected to implement the same policy on their campuses.

Many academics have argued that introducing guns into classrooms packed with anxious and passionate students just beginning to discuss the most sensitive of issues of our past and present is a terrible idea, while others point to potential misfires as a concern.

Law enforcement officials have also spoken about how much more difficult their jobs will become distinguishing between perpetrators from those simply defending themselves in the chaos of an active shooter situation.

Last but not least, William H. McRaven, the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and current University of Texas System chancellor, believes the policy creates a “less-safe environment” on college campuses.

While Texans should continue to debate whether campus carry fosters an inclusive and candid intellectual atmosphere in classrooms, there is an increasing difference between our four-year universities and community colleges that the Legislature must confront.

Since the passage of campus carry, there has been a spate of early college high schools built on many community college campuses.

In fact, every Tarrant County College campus now has an early college high school.

Juniors and seniors at these high schools take classes alongside the general community college student body and spend their entire academic week rubbing shoulders with older students.

The transition to college is already difficult enough for these minors, but to now add the burden of having to wonder who in their class might be packing a side-arm is simply unjust and unfair.

Those of us who study racism, sexism and classism in all their ugly forms know that one of the biggest tolls any of these poxes can take on an individual is psychological.

Brain power spent on worry and anxiety about ones’ clothes, skin color or sex can become crippling for some who do not have the kind of family or social or religious safety nets as others.

In short, in trying to create the most productive, inclusive and positive environment for our students, who often have much to overcome, we must not add more potential (and potentially fatal) distractions.

Beyond these high school juniors and seniors, who will now be subject to campus carry (but who themselves will not be able to carry because they are too young to obtain a license), there is the matter of the high school freshmen and sophomores regularly attending public events on community college campuses.

Furthermore, during summer semesters, College for Kids programs run on TCC campuses for first- through eighth-graders.

Supporters of campus carry note that some students might feel uncomfortable attending classes on campus without the protection of a gun.

In the age of mass shootings, one cannot help but sympathize with these students’ concerns.

However, there is a viable alternative provided to those students through online degree programs. Most community colleges now have degree programs that can be largely (if not completely) carried out online.

Others, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, have claimed that the campus carry situation for early college high school students is similar to minors frequenting a mall, the movies, museums and music venues.

This analogy is a false equivalence. Most of the places cited by Paxton where young people tend to congregate are not publicly run and publicly funded.

The state bears a greater burden to protect its minors while in school. The attorney general can claim that certain areas on campus may be designated gun-free zones, but the reality is that our community colleges have minors embedded all over their campuses.

An exemption to campus carry needs to be made for campuses with early college high schools and College for Kids programs.

And, instead of devolving the responsibility of protecting students away from trained officers into the hands of individuals whose credentials are a half-day training course, the Legislature could allocate more money to bolster the number of professional law enforcement officers.

Each of these officers undergo regular target practice, as well as mental health screenings to carry their weapons.

These efforts might not be politically or financially expedient, but we have a moral obligation to protect our young Texans.

Gregory Kosc is a historian from Arlington.