Education

20 Texas Private Colleges Are Opting Out Of State’s Campus Carry Law, Citing Safety Concerns

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Trinity University announced that it would opt out of Texas’ campus carry law Thursday, making it the 20th private college to do so since the legislation passed in June of last year. Other private colleges opting out of the law include Austin College, South Texas College of Law, Southern Methodist University, and University of St. Thomas.

The law allows students to carry concealed handguns on campus and store handguns in dormitories. Trinity University President Danny Anderson released a statement on the decision, which read, “The safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors is our highest priority. A weapons-free environment is the best learning environment for a residential campus like Trinity University.”

The Texas Tribune tracks all of the private colleges’ positions on the campus carry law. Of the private colleges the publication tracks, 17 have not decided whether they will opt out and one college, Southwestern Adventist University, did not respond to the Tribune’s request. The president of Baylor University, Ken Starr, said he has “little doubt” the university will opt out.

The University of Texas, which had an enrollment of 50,950 students in 2015, created a task force to analyze how the university should respond to the law. The task force released a report in December recommending how handguns must be carried or stored, and says guns, whether carried in a handbag or a backpack, must be carried in a holster that covers the trigger and trigger guard area and that semiautomatic handguns have to be carried without a chambered round of ammunition. The report also says guns can’t be carried during a school athletic event or a disciplinary hearing, or on the premises of a K-12 school, such as the University of Texas Elementary School, laboratory, or patient care area. There is nothing the university can do about concealed carry in classrooms, however.

You must be at least 21 years old to obtain a license to carry, and The University of Texas estimates that fewer than 1 percent of its students have licenses to carry. Five-hundred students living in the university’s residential halls are 21 years old and older.

The conversation over whether guns should be carried on campus heated up again after a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon in October last year, which resulted in the death of nine people. Cable news show commentators said the college was a “gun-free zone,” even though the college actually did allow guns on campus if students had a valid concealed carry license.

A 2014 survey published in the Journal of American College Health shows that the majority of 401 college chief executives surveyed did not support concealed carry of guns on campuses, with 95 percent of respondents opposing it. In terms of how to prevent or intervene in a shooting, 91 percent of the executives said identifying potentially violent students would be helpful, and also supported mass text alerts, campus police presence, an active shooter plan, and video cameras.

One of those methods, making sure colleges have a police presence, or as they’re often called, “safety officers,” is available at the majority of schools, since over 4,000 police departments work in public and private colleges, according to a BuzzFeed interview with William Taylor, chief of police for the San Jacinto College in Texas and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

A 2011-2012 U.S. Justice Department report shows 91 percent of public colleges have armed police officers. Only 36 percent of private colleges do. There was been a recent uptick in the percentage of private and public colleges that have officers who carry guns, from 68 percent in the 2004-2005 school year to 75 percent in 2011-2012.

However, this method has its detractors as well, with some advocates for equitable policing saying that campus police will racially profile students and act beyond their authority, a problem that is further exacerbated by a lack of transparency, as The Atlantic reported last year.