Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing individuals with a state-issued Concealed Handgun License (CHL)* to carry their weapon on campus at public colleges and universities.
The new law doesn’t become effective until August, 1, 2016 for most schools and students at community colleges will have to wait another year before campus carry is legal there.
The debate over campus carry has been going on for a while. Actually calling it a “debate” is being overly generous; as one would expect any time the topic is guns, the discussion rapidly escalated to the usual hysterical exchange of half-truths, untruths and predictions of a new age of personal safety or that the world as we know it would come to an end.
One side maintains students will be safer from attacks, perhaps envisioning a situation where a young woman fends off an attacker or someone saves the day when a mass killer shows up in Freshman English. That’s all well and good, but eight hours of classroom, a 50-shot proficiency test and a nifty wallet-sized card with your picture on it doesn’t mean you are ready to save the world. You owe it to yourself and those you would protect to real training in not just how to shoot, including using a firearm in a high-stress situation, but when to shoot. You can even learn techniques to de-escalate a confrontation.
The other side calls up visions of homicidal students gunning down professors over a bad grade or drunken shootouts on Fraternity Row and they are sure that blood will flow in the streets. Of course, they’re always sure of that, no matter what law is being discussed or what history has shown.
Administrators, faculty and campus police across the state are all grappling with the issues. Fritz Steiner, the dean of the University of Texas’ school of architecture, resigned because he wasn’t comfortable with managing the implementation of a law he opposed. Incidentally, Steiner is returning to the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater, which, in an apples-to-apples comparison, has an on-campus violent crime rate nearly 13% higher than the University of Texas.**
The truth is that Texas isn’t venturing into uncharted territory. Seven states, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, already allow campus carry. In addition, Arkansas allows faculty members to carry concealed weapons.
To be fair, campus carry has not been completely risk-free. Back in September 2014, a professor at Idaho State University accidentally shot himself in the foot during a class. There may have been similar accidents at schools in the other states, but there hasn’t been a single incident of the type that everyone is carrying on about.
As far as the nightmare predictions are concerned, opponents of campus carry seem to have overlooked the unpleasant truth that a student bent on violence has always been able to carry a concealed handgun on campus: just not legally.
Texas does have some experience with that. August first, the day the new campus carry law goes into effect, will be the 50th anniversary of Charles Whitman’s trip to the top of the UT Tower in Austin.
But rather than debate the issues, it might be productive to look at some things we do know about the new law and about those who have concealed carry licenses. We will look at that topic in Part 2.
*With the passage of open carry, the Texas Concealed Handgun License became the License To Carry (LTC). The previous term is used because it is more familiar to readers.
**Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education Campus Safety and Security Statistics for 2012 to 2014.