Texas is among eight states that allow concealed carrying of weapons on public college campuses. The other states are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin.
HOUSTON — Texas lawmakers made carrying a concealed weapon in campus buildings legal as of next August, but opponents are already trying to forestall enforcement by creating gun-free zones.
The resistance comes as similar measures are being debated in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Texas is among eight states that allow concealed carrying of weapons on public college campuses. The other states are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law last month banning concealed guns on school campuses, and 18 other states already have such a ban.
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The University of Texas (UT) at Austin has become the epicenter of the movement in Texas against implementing the “campus carry” law. It was the scene of one of the first and bloodiest school shootings in U.S. history by a deranged ex-Marine in the clock tower that left 14 dead. The 50th anniversary of the shootings will be Aug. 1, the day that campus carry is set to take effect.
A UT Austin economics professor has resigned in protest against the law, worried about teaching students who might be armed.
More than 800 UT professors added their names to a list opposing guns in classrooms, and more than 8,000 people signed a petition.
On Tuesday, Gun Free UT protesters gathered on the campus’ west mall to listen to those who oppose concealed guns in dorms and classrooms, including the sister of a student killed in the Sandy Hook school shootings and a student who struggled with mental health issues freshman year.
Some of those who gathered said they were emboldened by the chancellor of the 15-campus system, William McRaven — a former Navy SEAL — who spoke out against the law, saying he did not think it would help protect students.
Christina Adams, 54, recalled selling “Gun Free UT” T-shirts on parents’ weekend when she saw McRaven approach.
“He came up to us and talked to us and said we were doing the right thing,” said Adams, whose husband is a professor at the university, her eldest son a freshman. “We know McRaven is on our side. I don’t know how tied his hands are. The fact is, he will take into account the recommendations of the president of each campus.”
This fall, UT Austin President Gregory Fenves convened a 19-member working group of faculty, students and other advisers that held public meetings about campus carry and is scheduled to deliver recommendations to him by early December. But officials have said the UT system board of regents will ultimately decide how the campus carry law is implemented.
Max Snodderly, a neuroscience professor, attended the UT Austin working group’s September meeting, where he spoke, met Gun Free UT organizers and decided to push for change through activism.
“Having guns on campus is an extremely bad idea. It’s an encroachment on academic freedom,” and a danger to students at risk of suicide, Snodderly said.
“The president has a great deal of discretion in terms of areas that can be design as gun-free on campus. We are urging the president to implement gun free zones in classrooms, dormitories and offices,” he said.
This week, the group announced it had retained an attorney from the National Lawyers Guild.
“We hope the administration will be cooperative,” Snodderly said, because, “The law is very vague and it’s the implementation that’s going to make a difference.”
He said opponents hope to have an effect not just here, but in other states contemplating campus carry.
“This is a nationwide problem and it’s being repeated over and over state by state. Precedent in one state will allow another,” he said.
He said shootings this year that left one dead at Texas Southern University and 10 dead at a community college in Oregon “have heightened public awareness of the dangers of the gun culture.”
“We don’t feel more guns is the answer,” Snodderly said.
But equally motivated supporters believe the right to carry weapons on campus should be enforced in most campus buildings.
Chase Jennings founded Texas Students for Concealed Carry groups at UT Austin, the University of Houston and Texas A&M. While Texas A&M — with an enrollment of more than 58,000 — and some other universities are taking the law in stride, he said. “Others like UT are acting like the sky is falling.”
Jennings said he accepts that university officials may restrict campus carry in some spaces, such as laboratories with flammable materials or areas where alcohol is served. But he and other supporters have been monitoring to ensure that universities don’t go too far, he said.
“We’re just trying to make sure the schools are being fair and obeying the law,” Jennings said.