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Campus Carry Rules Head to UT Board of Regents for Final Approval

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Shelby Knowles
/
Texas Tribune
Faculty protest UT Austin's campus carry plan to allow guns in classrooms. Meanwhile, pro-gun groups protest the proposed regulations for being too restrictive. The campus plan is up for final review next week.

Across Texas, universities are preparing to make concealed handguns a part of campus life. The Senate bill known as campus carry, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June 2015, takes effect the first of August. Under the law, public universities have only some power to regulate where guns are allowed on campus.

The University of Texas at Austin has been bolder than other state schools in designating gun-free zones, and the school is feeling the heat from pro-gun student groups.

In his office on the edge of the UT Austin campus, Bob Harkins has a big black-and-white sign. It reads in part, “Pursuant to Section 30.06, a person may not enter this property with a concealed handgun.”

As head of the school’s campus carry implementation task force, Harkins is in charge of designating where to post signs like this one — signs that must conform to specific guidelines outlined in section 30.06 of the state's penal code — on campus. 

He plans to put them in a few places, like in some labs that contain explosive materials, or in animal research facilities.

“Our concern is an accidental discharge would cause some catastrophic event to occur,” he said about the labs. And as for the animal facilities: “A lot of the larger animals can grab a gun.”

With some exceptions, guns are banned in dorms at UT Austin. But, despite some faculty protest, firearms will be allowed in classrooms.

Harkins said the signs target what amounts to just a tiny part of the school’s 50,000-some students – those few who have handgun licenses. And while he helps write the rules, he’s hard-pressed to enforce them.

“It’s not my job to know who they are. It’s their job to know what they can and can’t do. The burden is on them,” he said.

Harkins won't be hanging signs in faculty offices. While UT Austin is allowing professors to designate their offices "gun-free zones," they will have to inform visitors of the designation verbally.

The national group Students for Concealed Carry is not happy about that part of the plan.

“If I go see that instructor, then I’m basically disarmed the entire time I’m on campus, because there’s nowhere I can store my firearm while I’m in that instructor’s office,” said a spokesperson for the group, Michael Newbern.

The group has come up with a counter-tactic.

“We’re encouraging students to show whatever documentation they have, whether that’s video or anything, to show this is happening, so we can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office,” said the group’s regional director, Antonia Okafor. She said they’re even considering paying students to produce this recorded evidence.

The group’s timing is strategic, as next week the UT Board of Regents will decide whether to approve the Austin campus’ regulations as they stand.

“We’re hoping that they heed the warning, that Texas A&M and UT Tyler and other universities have heeded already, and that they do not approve that,” said Okafor.

With a two-thirds vote, the regents could change the policies.

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