AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas will allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into public university buildings, classrooms and dorms starting Monday, which is also the 50th anniversary of the mass shooting at the University of Texas’ landmark clock tower.
The campus-carry law pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican legislative majority will make Texas one of a handful of states that guarantee the right to carry concealed handguns on campus. Here’s a Q &A on how the law will work:
WHO CAN HAVE A CONCEALED HANDGUN ON CAMPUS?
Anyone who holds a Texas handgun license. To get one, a person must be at least 21 (18 if in the military) and pass both classroom and gun range training courses. There are also restrictions on convicted felons, people charged with felonies and high-level misdemeanors or people with a history of mental illness.
Texas has more than 1 million concealed handgun license holders.
ARE THERE ANY RESTRICTIONS ON WHERE GUNS WILL BE ALLOWED?
Generally speaking, the law allows guns in buildings, classrooms and dorms, but rules may differ from campus to campus, as each school is required to map that out.
For example, at the University of Texas at Austin, where faculty and students vigorously protested the law, teachers will be allowed to declare their offices as gun-free zones, but most will post signs announcing it. Dorm residents can have guns in common areas, such as dining areas and lounges, but not sleeping rooms, where no storage of weapons is allowed. Exceptions to the room restrictions will be made for visiting family members who are licensed to carry handguns.
At Texas A&M University in College Station, guns are allowed in dorm rooms and teachers must get permission from the administration to ban guns from their office.
State law still bans weapons from some campus areas, such as hospitals and sporting events.
WITH THE STATE’S OPEN CARRY LAW, WILL WEAPONS BE ON DISPLAY IN CLASS?
No. The open carry law specifically does not apply to college campuses. Any handguns on campus must be holstered and kept out of sight.
ARE GUNS ALLOWED AT PRIVATE SCHOOLS? COMMUNITY COLLEGES?
Private schools like Baylor, Rice, Texas Christian and others can ban guns under the state law. Currently, Amberton University, which doesn’t allow students under 21 and has a total enrollment under 2,000, is the only private school that has opted to allow guns.
As for community colleges, they have until August 2017 to allow weapons, giving them more time to adjust for security and other measures.
WHY IS THE LAW SO CONTROVERSIAL?
Texas has allowed concealed handguns in public for 20 years. Gun rights advocates consider it an important protection, given the constitutional right to bear arms, as well as a key self-defense measure in cases of campus violence, such as the 1966 UT shootings and the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.
Opponents of the law fear it will chill free speech on campus and lead to more campus suicide. The former dean of the University of Texas School of Architecture left for a position at the University of Pennsylvania because of his opposition to allowing guns on campus.
WHAT’S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE AUG. 1 START DATE?
It’s unsettling for some because it falls on the anniversary of Charles Whitman’s shooting rampage, in which the Marine-trained sniper opened fire from an observation deck on top of the school’s landmark clock tower. It has come to be accepted as the nation’s first mass shooting, with 17 deaths attributed to him.
Among those who urged state lawmakers not to approve campus carry was Claire Wilson James, the first person Whitman shot. She was pregnant and was shot through the belly, killing her unborn child.