UT Austin’s Process of Creating Campus Carry Policies

Texas Government Code § (d-1) charges the president or other chief executive officer of an institution of higher learning to establish reasonable rules, regulations, and other provisions regarding the carrying of concealed handguns by license holders on campus after consulting with students, staff, and faculty regarding the nature of the student population, specific safety considerations, and the uniqueness of the campus environment.

To help develop and implement university policies that comply with applicable campus carry laws, University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves established the Campus Carry Policy Working Group to identify specific concerns of students, faculty, staff, and parents regarding campus carry and to recommend rules that balance campus safety concerns with legal compliance. The Working Group’s Final Report, completed in December 2015, summarized the concerns and arguments of both supporters and opponents of campus carry, and put forth several policy recommendations for President Fenves’s consideration.

The Working Group (composed of faculty, staff, students, an alumnus, a parent, and university administrators), in an effort to gather as much input as possible, created several opportunities for members of the university community to voice their opinions on campus carry, including an online survey, two public forums, a survey of all deans and program directors, discussion with various constituent groups, and reviewing comments received through petitions, student groups, and other means.  The Working Group met on a weekly basis to discuss what they learned in consultation with members of the university community and draft policy recommendations.

The Working Group’s discussions with the university community revealed that many people are confused about the specific requirements and authorizations of the new campus carry laws.  The most common misunderstanding is that the campus carry laws will authorize open carry on campus (the campus carry laws only authorize concealed carry on campus).

Opponents of campus carry expressed several concerns surrounding safety, including the fear of handgun carriers going on shooting rampages, a general fear of increased gun violence on campus, and the concern that campus carry will lead to an increase in campus suicides.  Another consistent view held by those opposed to campus carry is that campus carry will have a chilling effect on academic freedom and discussion in the classroom.  Those who commented on the subject expressed fear that the knowledge that one or more students might be carrying a concealed weapon would cause students to demur from participating in passionate and controversial class discussion.  Finally, opponents of campus carry also expressed the concern that campus carry would inhibit the university’s ability to recruit and retain students, faculty, and staff.

Those in favor of campus carry expressed their desire to be able to carry concealed handguns for self defense as they walked, sometimes substantial distances, at night, to their residence or vehicle.  Supporters of campus carry also asserted that they should be able to carry concealed handguns for self defense in active shooter situations.  In support of these claims, proponents of campus carry cited data from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) stating that handgun license holders are an extremely law-abiding group, and are less likely to be convicted of a crime than other groups, including law enforcement officers.  Those favoring campus carry also referenced the experiences of campuses in other states with campus carry laws, noting that concealed carry on those campuses did not produce any increase in campus violence or suicide.

In addition to the concerns and arguments of both supporters and opponents of campus carry, the Working Group also considered relevant demographic information, including Texas DPS data indicating that only about 1.6% of Texans aged 21 – 24 hold a license to carry a handgun.  Based on demographics from the Fall 2015 semester, the Working Group concluded that less than half of the university’s students were eligible to obtain a license to carry a handgun (minimum age of 21).  Although the Working Group could not produce concrete statistics, in considering these two pieces of data together, the Working Group estimated that less than one percent of the university’s student population will have a license to carry a handgun.

The Working Group also considered Texas DPS census data revealing that license holders comprise only about 4.5% of the Texas population aged 21 and over.  Furthermore, the Working Group found that, as of the Fall 2015 semester, only 313 students aged 21 or above lived in university residence halls, and about 683 students aged 21 or above lived in University Apartments (other university-owned housing).  However, only about 132 of those students living in University Apartments were eligible to obtain a license to carry a handgun.

Finally, the Working Group considered information gathered from other states with campus carry laws.  Unfortunately, no other state has a campus carry law similar to the Texas law set to go into effect on August 1, 2016 (Texas law provides much more latitude for university discretion regarding the establishment and implementation of handgun rules and regulations), so the Working Group found little significant guidance from other states’ implementation schemes.

Despite the lack of guidance on the implementation of university policies, the Working Group did find that, based on the experiences of other states with campus carry laws, little evidence of campus violence can be directly linked to campus carry.  Of the evidence that can be directly linked to campus carry, none involves an intentional shooting.  Furthermore, the Working Group concluded that the evidence does not support a causal link between campus carry and an increased risk of sexual assault or an increase in campus suicides.

The Working Group took all of this information into consideration and put forth 25 policies for President Fenves’s consideration, and recommended that classrooms should not be designated as gun-free zones.  After reviewing the Working Group’s recommendations and meeting with several university groups, including student government organizations, the Faculty Council, the Faculty Council Executive Committee, the Staff Council Executive Committee, and the President’s Student Advisory Council, President Fenves drafted a letter to UT students, faculty, and staff on February 17, 2016 explaining his decision on campus carry.

In his letter, President Fenves lamented the campus carry laws, and expressed his personal belief that handguns do not belong on a university campus.  However, President Fenves also stated that, pursuant to his obligation to uphold the law, he had reached a decision regarding the policies that he submitted to Chancellor William McRaven and the UT Board of Regents.  In addition to adopting all of the policy recommendations made by the Working Group, President Fenves expressly stated that he agreed with the Working Group’s recommendation that handguns should not be prohibited in classrooms, as this would have the general effect of excluding concealed handguns on campus in violation of the law.

Additionally, President Fenves appointed a Campus Carry Implementation Task Force (including many members of the Working Group) to assist in dealing with the many aspects of implementing the new policies, including developing guidelines, rules, and practices, and addressing the process for determining gun-exclusion zones in accordance with these policies.

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