Texas Campus Carry Law Gets Green Light - Higher Education
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Texas Campus Carry Law Gets Green Light

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by Emil Guillermo

Starting next year in August 2016, it will be easier for a gun to get into the University of Texas than it will be for a person of color.

People of color will continue to undergo the admissions process, no matter what the Supreme Court says in the Fisher case.

But guns? Licensed student-owners will be protected by Texas’ new “campus carry” law, passed in May and signed into law last June.

With a license and a high school diploma, you’ll be able to bring your gun and laptop to the new Wild West colleges and universities of Texas.

And if you were an administrator or professor hoping for a little discretion in following the law, you probably will spend the early part of 2016 talking to lawyers after last week’s opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In response to a letter from the Texas State Senate, Paxton answered six questions about whether a college or university had any wiggle room with Senate Bill 11.

Short answer: No.

But here are the questions.

Question 1: Can a college or university prohibit the carrying of concealed handguns in a substantial number of classrooms?

A court would likely conclude that would be “contrary to the Legislature’s express requirements,” wrote Paxton.

Translation. No.

Question 2: Could a university allow professors to designate classrooms as areas where possession of a concealed handgun by licensees is not allowed?

In other words, can professors declare their classrooms as “sane zones” just for learning and not for target practice?

Paxton referred to the law’s requirement of distribution of rules. You can’t just change them arbitrarily without making sure people know the rules have changed.  Furthermore, no authority was given to a president or chief executive officer of an institution of higher learning to delegate authority to a professor. No matter how much tenure he or she has.

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So the answer there is again, No.

Question 3: So how about banning or prohibiting guns in dorms and other college owned or leased residential housing?

Paxton said there may be some allowance to establish “reasonable requirements related to the location and manner in which handguns are stored within its residential facilities.”

But colleges can’t ban or prohibit a licensee from having handguns “in the institution’s residential facilities.” And the establishment of rules “presupposes their presence in dormitories,” so the answer is, once again, no.

Get used to it. Guns are coming.

Question 4: Can a university temporarily prohibit guns?

Here Paxton is more hopeful. He wrote that a president or officer could “amend the provision as necessary for campus safety,” and said a court could allow for “occasional, reasonable temporary restrictions.”

Like for Christmas break when no one is there?

So what’s a safety reason? I’d say that if there was an Umpqua situation, legislators who supported the law would probably say that’s exactly when everyone should be packing a piece.

It’s just one of the reasons the law doesn’t make sense.

The final two questions have to do with whether a school is protected from lawsuits from gun owners who feel the school has “exceeded its authority.”

No, the school is not immune.

And what about licensees who carry guns in a school that fails to comply with the new rule?

Licensees can carry. Paxton warned against schools going beyond their legal authority.

After reading the letter, it seems the only way to keep guns off campus is to have grade school classrooms on campuses since federal law prohibits guns from within 1,000 feet from any K-12 school, public or private. That wouldn’t conflict with the state law, Paxton opined.

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So maybe the only way out of the Texas gun law would be to have Gifted and Talented classes from secondary schools set up in our places of higher learning.

Paxton’s opinion on the law is non-binding but is expected to fuel what will be next year’s hot topic in the largest of the eight states with current campus carry laws.

We don’t need to see a “Gunfight at the OK college or university” to know we’re dealing with a bad law.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator. He writes on race, social justice and political issues at http://www.aaldef.org/blog

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