Concealed handguns are now allowed on the University of Texas campus, after a new state law forced University President Greg Fenves to approve "campus carry" on Wednesday.
The school of over 50,000 students was gun-free, but the Republican-controlled state legislature approved a measure last year that forces public universities in the state to allow licensed gun-owners to carry their weapons in public buildings.
The new law goes into effect beginning on Aug. 1, despite protests from students, faculty, and staff at the University of Texas.
“I do not believe handguns belong on a university campus, so this decision has been the greatest challenge of my presidency to date,” he said at the signing.
More than 300 faculty members had signed a petition as of October saying they would refuse to allow gun-carrying students in their classrooms. And Gun-Free UT, a group of students, faculty and staff, “has said allowing guns in classrooms will create a threatening atmosphere and chill free speech in academics,” reports The Washington Post.
Even University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, the former head of US Special Operations Command who led the raid on Osama Bin Laden, opposes the measure.
State lawmakers say public universities are allowed to have gun-free areas, but it can’t result in a campus-wide – or even classroom-wide – ban. UT has designated dorm rooms, sporting events, and certain laboratories as gun-free zones. Licensed family members will be able to keep their weapon while on campus and licensed staff members will be able to carry their guns inside of dorms.
This will be a big change for the University of Texas, but at least one school already has adopted concealed carry policies on campus.
“Under the current law, public universities in Texas can opt to allow guns on campus, but only Texas A&M University has chosen to do so,” The Christian Science Monitor’s Cristina Maza wrote last year. But even gun rights on A&M’s campus will be expanded August 1.
Licensed gun owners are already permitted to carry a concealed handgun on public streets, parking lots, and sidewalks at the Texas A&M campus, but in less than six months, gun owners “can now also carry a concealed handgun anywhere on a university campus, including in buildings....” the university explains on their website.
The new law stipulates that private colleges in Texas still have discretion over campus carry laws and most of the state’s private schools, such as Baylor, Rice, Southern Methodist, and Texas Christian, have opted to remain gun-free.
“But regardless of the opposition, Texas is far from the only state to consider legislation that would allow some form of campus carry,” Ms. Maza noted. “In fact, it is just one of a growing number.”
Eight states – Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin – already acknowledge campus carry as a right and public universities in these states are required to allow firearms on campus, in some way.
“There is a trend. The gun lobby is picking up around a state a year,” Andy Pelosi, director of the campaign Keep Guns off Campus, told the Associated Press.
Supporters of the bill say guns in the classroom can help deter mass shootings.
“There’s no reason why campus should be this black hole for self-defense and protecting ourselves,” College Republican President Madison Yandell told the Daily Texan. “It’s not going to be open carry where we’re like waving our guns around in class using it as a threat to our professors or other students in class… It’s a matter of self-defense.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press.