Since 1996, when the Gun-Free School Zones Act was revised following the Supreme Court case U.S. vs. Lopez, it has been illegal to carry a gun in a school zone. Yet, when it comes to the possession of firearms on college campuses, it is an entirely different story.
On Aug. 1, 2016, Texas governor Greg Abbott’s Senate Bill 11 will take effect, lifting the prohibition of guns in all Texan college campus buildings, including classrooms.
However, the bill’s gun policy will not be new for the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin)— there, gun-license holders have been permitted to carry concealed handguns on the UT Austin campus since 1995.
“I think [the University of Texas] has gotten a lot of press over campus carry here in Texas when, in reality, the law applies to all public schools in the state,” Bailey Ethier ’15, a current freshman at UT Austin said. “I think Texas has been in the news a lot over this because it’s ‘Oh look at what gun-crazy Texas is doing now!’”
Texas is also not the only state to permit concealed weapons on campus. Seven other states — Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin — have similar laws. “I can see why most people living in Connecticut would be critical of the presence of weapons on a campus, but I think we need to consider the fact that states have the right to make their own laws that fit their agenda and problems,” Andres Marmelo ’16 said.
However, there are others who are strictly opposed to the concealed gun carry laws. Halle Foster ’16, who will be attending UT Austin next fall, is wary of the policy’s effect on the campus environment. When asked whether she thinks the law could impact future applicants and their view of the school, she said, “I think it could affect some, but more so teachers because they could be put in danger if they’re confronted with an upset student about a grade or something.”
And the Bill has, in fact, affected some teachers. In February, Frederick Steiner, Dean of the School of Architecture at UT Austin, made the announcement that he was leaving the university for the University of Pennsylvania over concerns of the campus carry law. Steiner said in an interview with NPR that “[he] knew [he] would have to enforce the [concealed gun carry] law even if [he] didn’t believe in it.”
However, while the Bill must be enforced on all Texas college campuses, private Texas schools may elect to ban concealed handguns following a campus discussion. Southern Methodist University (SMU) is one such college that opted to be weapons-free after more than two-thirds of students, who responded to a SMU Student Senate letter, voted against concealed weapon carry.
“I do not think the discussion over the law really had an impact on SMU students,” Sammie Kurtz ’15, a freshman at SMU, said. “Personally when I got the email [about the vote], I got kind of freaked out because the idea of allowing guns on a college campus seemed crazy with all of the recent school shootings.”