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The Campus Carry Conversation

July 2, 2015

Every legislative session is filled with hot topics and fancy rhetoric, and the recently completed 84th session was no exception. A lot of the conversation this year centered around expanding the rights of Texas gun owners, and what emerged from that conversation were two bills that came to be called “open carry” and “campus carry.”

Momentum for each of the bills has been building steadily the past couple of sessions. Open carry allows concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to wear their handgun in a holster. It has very little impact on the Texas Tech University System. The campus carry bill, though, as you might guess was another story.

A couple of important points first. Existing law allows CHL holders to carry their handguns on campus. Currently, though, they are restricted from entering buildings. This bill, signed into law by Gov. Abbott earlier this month, now allows CHL holders to carry in buildings.

But which buildings? Good question. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Generally speaking, higher education was not in favor of this law. Opinions varied at sister institutions across the state. The University of Texas System was adamantly against it; the Texas A&M University System didn’t really take a position. At the Texas Tech University System, we wanted a seat at the table to discuss the bill and possibly have language inserted that would give institutions latitude to create gun-free zones on their campuses.

In the end, that is what happened.

I want to thank the Legislature for giving institutions this leeway. Each campus is unique, and each campus will have locations where it may not make sense to allow guns. The important thing is the institutions will be able to decide.

As for us, the Texas Tech University System leadership is involved in determining campus carry exception areas. We are already working on this, and the presidents at each of our component institutions will at some point soon engage their respective campus communities in a conversation about campus carry. From these dialogues, which will include students, faculty and staff, will emerge recommendations that our Board of Regents can approve or modify. The 850,000 Texas CHL holders are by and large the most law-abiding group of people in the state. That said, I’m hopeful we can provide optional training for those who wish to carry on campus, and I hope our training emphasizes the fact that having CHLs are for self-defense only. They are not meant for people to transform themselves into de facto members of the law enforcement community.

Once we have our policies in place, we must report to the Legislature. One thing state lawmakers were adamant about regarding exceptions is the fact that institutions cannot declare their entire campus gun-free. Exceptions are supposed to be reasonable and developed in concert with respective campus constituencies.

It is also important to note that while “open carry” takes effect in September, “campus carry” does not become effective until August 2016. We have a lot of time, but we also have a lot to get done between now and then.

Providing a safe campus environment is paramount for all of the leaders of the Texas Tech University System. You can be assured that our policies will be thoughtful and designed with a safety-first approach.

I know there has been a lot of discourse about “campus carry.” There may be some fear and some panic about it. Remember, CHL holders must be 21 years of age, which eliminates a large percentage of undergraduate students. Along those same lines, previous experiences tell me this new law won’t be as bad as people opposed to it think it will be, and it won’t be as good as those in favor think it will be.

Regardless, “campus carry” is a reality, and it’s up to us to figure out the best way to follow the law and keep our campuses safe.

Interview on Campus Carry

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