Texas' new law allowing college students to carry guns on public campuses doesn't take effect until August, but it's already triggered a showdown.
University of Texas-Austin President Gregory Fenves declared this week that he'll comply with the law, but claimed a loophole allows him to ban firearms in dormitories.
“I do not believe handguns belong on a university campus, so this decision has been the greatest challenge of my presidency to date,” Fenves wrote in a Feb. 17 letter to students, faculty and staff. “However, as president, I have an obligation to uphold the law.”
“I do not believe handguns belong on a university campus, so this decision has been the greatest challenge of my presidency to date.”
- UT Austin president Gregory Fenves
The law authorizes those with permits “to carry a concealed handgun while on the campus of a public, private, or independent institution of higher education.” But Fenves believes the law allows him to impose a dormitory ban.
That interpretation is not likely to sit well with state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who in December said that a ban on guns in dorms would be flouting the law.
“If an institution placed a prohibition on handguns in the institution’s residential facilities, however, it would effectively prohibit license holders in those facilities from carrying concealed handguns on campus, in violation of S.B. 11,” Paxton wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “This is because ‘rules, regulations, or other provisions concerning the storage of handguns in dormitories’ presupposes their presence in dormitories.”
Paxton did not return calls requesting comment on Fenves' interpretation of the law.
In a press release on Wednesday, the university said that Fenves is simply adopting a total of 25 recommendations from a Campus Carry Working group that released a report on the same day. But what was not mentioned in the public letter to the community was the dorm room ban, which was listed as the first policy statement in the report.
One possible solution would be for students who live on campus to store their guns in lockers that could be set up by the school. No such proposal has emerged, and it is not clear whether it would pass muster with Paxton or courts.
Other University of Texas-Austin gun requirements include:
-A license holder who carries while on campus must do so with a holster that completely covers the trigger and trigger guard areas completely.
-Holders who carry a semiautomatic handgun on campus must carry it without a chambered round of ammunition.
-No handguns can be carried at polling areas on the day of an election.
-No concealed carry of handguns in areas where formal hearings on student discipline and conduct are held.
In a separate letter to Chancellor William McRaven, Fenves alludes to the fact that he might have further restrictions he would like to implement down the road.
“I have significant concerns about how the law will affect our ability to recruit and retain faculty members and students,” he said. “If problems develop, we will work to understand the causes and make adjustments to the policies, rules, and practices, consistent with the law.”