Paxton: Universities Can't Ban Guns in Dorms

Credit Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

Texas universities would violate the state's new campus carry law if they banned guns in dormitories, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a non-binding opinion issued Monday afternoon. 

That opinion goes against recommendations made by a task force at the University of Texas at Austin, which suggested banning guns in dorms in a report to university President Greg Fenves earlier this month. 

Universities were given some leeway under the new law allowing concealed license holders to carry handguns on campus — they are allowed to declare some buildings gun-free. But the law says those gun-free zones can't have the effect of banning guns across campus; in other words, gun-free zones can't make it impossible to reasonably carry a handgun at all.

In his opinion, Paxton said banning guns in dorms would have that effect. Plus, he noted, the new law allows universities to create rules for how guns are stored in dorms. That provision, he wrote, "presupposes [guns'] presence in dormitories."

As attorney general, Paxton is the state's top lawyer. Public officials regularly seek out his opinion when there's some confusion about how a law should be interpreted. In this case, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, the author of the bill, asked for Paxton's opinion. 

Schools don't necessarily have to listen, however, and could still try to ban guns in dorms. If they do, they'll likely face legal challenges from campus carry supporters.

The law goes into effect Aug 1, and universities are still in the process of writing their rules.

In another gun-related opinion released Monday, Paxton said that K-12 campuses — including sidewalks and parking areas — are to remain gun-free zones under the state’s new open-carry law as long as school-sponsored activities are taking place there.

"For instance, if a high school utilizes a school parking lot for a band rehearsal, that parking lot would likely fall within the scope of” the law "prohibiting weapons during the time of the rehearsal,” Paxton wrote. "Yet, the other parking areas at the school where school activities are not occurring would not fall within” the law "and would not be places where weapons are prohibited.”

Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, requested the opinion.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a law allowing license-holders to carry handguns openly in a hip or shoulder holster, changing current law requiring that such weapons be concealed.