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Education

Campus Carry Begins At Texas Universities

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AARON SCHRANK/TPR
Signage at a UTSA dining area prohibiting concealed handguns.

University of Texas at San Antonio senior Andrew Willis usually has his small caliber pistol on him a few times a week. 

“It’s mostly just if I’m going to be in a part of town that is a little more shady,” says Willis. “It’s the same premise as, you know, wearing your seatbelt, taking vitamins or having health insurance. You’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Willis is a concealed handgun license holder. Until now, he couldn’t bring a handgun to campus. But the controversial new Texas campus carry law, passed by the legislature and signed by the governor last year, goes into effect August 1—on the 50th anniversary of the UT-Austin Tower shooting, where a gunman took 16 lives.

Willis says he and others could help prevent incidents like that.

“Even just knowing that there could be 10, 20, 30 people around you carrying weapons would probably serve to be a pretty hefty deterrent to anybody doing anything like that in the future,” Willis says.

Under the law, private universities can opt out, and most in the San Antonio area have. But the city’s public universities—Texas A&M, UT Health Science Center and UTSA—must now allow concealed carry in classrooms and some other places.

Many university leaders have opposed the law since the beginning, including UT’s chancellor and UTSA administrators.

“We said then and we continue to believe now that guns have no place on a university campus or in a classroom,” says Joe Izbrand, UTSA’s Chief Communications Officer. “We had an obligation to implement the law.”

"On a college campus, where we talk about this being a safe place for students, adding guns to the mix doesn't seem like we're making this place any more safe." --UTSA junior Eliza Parker.

To that end, Izbrand served on the task force to craft specific policies for UTSA and determine which parts of its campuses should be gun-free. He says the group heard plenty of input from students and faculty.

“The work that was done I hear I think was a very strong balance of complying with the law and balancing that against the safety needs and concerns of our campus community,” Izbrand says.

Signs are now posted around UTSA’s campuses explaining that concealed weapons are not allowed in dorms, childcare and medical care facilities—and host of other buildings and areas. UTSA professors with their own offices can choose if those spaces are gun-free, but classrooms cannot be excluded.

“I think on a college campus, where we talk about this being a safe place for students, adding guns to the mix doesn’t seem like we’re making this place any more safe,” says UTSA junior Eliza Parker.

Sitting outside her school’s library, Parker says she’s not sure how her school will actually enforce the law and keep weapons out of gun-free zones.

“This right here, this dining area will be an exclusionary zone, but the [library] on top of it is not,” says Parker. “So like, if someone just wants to walk through the bottom to get to the top, are they—how are you supposed to find out someone is carrying a gun?”

UTSA requires all students, faculty and staff to complete an online training about the new law when they return from summer break later this month. While Parker doesn’t like the new policy, she doesn’t expect things will change much on campus.

“I think there will be something in the air,” says Parker. “Just like walking to class and you see a sign and you’re like,”  ‘oh right, there are guns here.’”

Surveys conducted by UTSA political science professor Walter Wilson show that 80 percent of faculty and two-thirds of students say they would feel less safe under the new law.

“And it doesn’t break down evenly across groups,” says Wilson. “Our female students and our minority students appear much more threatened by the idea of having campus carry than our male or white students.”

Wilson says the new policy runs contrary to the university’s educational goals.

“The academic environment must be a safe environment, where the exchange of ideas can occur uninhibited,” Wilson says.

But UTSA senior Andrew Willis says fears about campus carry are unfounded.

“I understand that some people kind of have the fear of someone lashing out and then they happen to have a firearm and it’s that much easier for them to do something terrible,” says Willis. “But, people with CHLs are pretty level-headed people. They don’t commit crimes on the scale that you would expect.”

According to data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, concealed handgun license holders commit violent crimes at rates well below the state average.

The new campus carry law now in effect at all four-year public colleges begins at community colleges next year. 

Read UTSA's full campus carry rules here.

Read Texas A&M University San Antonio's rules here, and UT Health Science Center San Antonio's rules here.