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Campus Carry Law Goes Into Effect Statewide

Bob Daemmrich
Texas Tribune

Texans with a license to carry permit can now carry handguns on public universities and college campuses. The controversial state law that was passed in 2015 finally went into effect Monday.

Bob Harkins, the associate vice president for campus safety and security for the University of Texas at Austin, says he’s being working behind the scenes for a long time – getting the school ready.

“We know that childcare centers for example have to have signs, so okay we have to figure out what the signs are and go get the signs,” he explains. “We have excluded laboratories – we gotta put those up.”

Harkins says they’ve excluded about 700 labs on campus. Just in case a weapon is accidentally discharged, the school wants to make sure it’s not in a lab with dangerous chemicals. Officials also excluded places like patient care areas, animal research and various school activities.

Basically, the real work here has been getting signs ready for the appropriate locations and communicating with students and staff about what their options are.

“We chose for example that you can exclude your office if you are a single occupant in an office– you can do that,” Harkins says. “So, we tried to find ways to implement the laws that were safe and try to take into consideration the uniqueness of the campus.”

"People have concealed permits all over Texas all over the United States and it’s not chaos in the streets."

So far, the cost of all of this isn’t “exorbitant,” as Harkins puts it. Although, final costs haven’t been tallied, yet.

However, costs to UTAustin could be more complicated than just signs around campus.

For example, the architecture school lost its dean because of the law. A candidate for another high profile faculty position also says he declined a position here because of campus carry.

And now, there are legal costs. Last month, three UT Austin professors sued the university and the state. They say the law will stifle class discussion – violating the First Amendment.

Maro Youssef, a teaching assistant on campus, says she has similar concerns.

“I’m in the sociology department, and we teach very sensitive issues,” Youseff explains. “We discuss things like privilege, and racism and sexism and rape – so, discussing these issues will be quite controversial and scary for a lot of us. And, so, a lot of us are against this policy.”

A common defense for this law is that it will make students and faculty safer. Conversations around guns on campus picked up in the state legislature after a slew of high profile mass shootings at various colleges nationwide.

"I mean, adding more guns to the situation is probably not the answer."

Proponents of the law say if students are armed during a mass shooting, they could protect themselves.

However, some UT students like Jarod Becker and Sally Phonthaasa are having a hard time buying that argument.

“If you think about it: something bad happens, one person has a gun versus three people who have guns,” says Jarod Becker, a student at UT. “It turns a dangerous situation into a huge gunfight. I mean, adding more guns to the situation is probably not the answer.”

“I think to be able to defend a large population, that should be left to the officials – to cops,” says UT Austin sophomore Sally Phonthaasa. “That’s their job.”

Fellow undergrad Vince Carrozza says he’s actually pretty conflicted about this because he says people should have the right to carry a gun, but he says that doesn’t mean he isn’t a little freaked out about this.

“I can’t imagine going in for a class and having a test and a guy with a gun on his belt and I’m trying to study for my test and there’s a guy with a gun – but I also think I should have this right,” he explained.

And this is another issue here on campus. A lot of people are still confused about what this law means. Despite Carozza’s fears, he actually shouldn’t see a gun at school.

Adam Redmer, who is also a student at UT Austin, says these fears are overblown anyway.

“People have concealed permits all over Texas all over the United States and it’s not chaos in the streets,” he says.

Harkins says he imagines it won’t be a big deal, either. He says he has talked to officials in schools in other states who started allowing guns on campus and he says these initial fears blew over.

“Once you get past the implementation, people tend to get back to the business of teaching and doing research and that’s what we hope will happen here,” he says.

Harkins adds that being next to someone at school with a concealed handgun will likely be no different than being next to someone at H-E-B with concealed weapon. 

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