University of Texas tries to defy part of new campus carry law
posted at 2:31 pm on February 20, 2016 by Jazz Shaw
The new campus carry law in Texas takes effect in August, but if the University of Texas has its way it won’t be a smooth transition. The university president seems to be taking the attitude of someone being dragged kicking and screaming into accepting the law of the land and he’s planning to mandate some extra-legal restrictions on his own. The big sticking point seems to be that he thinks he’s within his rights to ban guns in university housing. (Fox News)
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.”
This decision is rather bizarre to say the least. The university set up a special “working group” to study the law and create proposals for how to implement new policies while remaining in compliance. President Fenves was clearly aware of their findings since he released his statement on the same day that the working group published their paper. But when you read it, they cover the entire dormatory question in two different sections which appear to contradict each other and don’t seem to be in compliance with the law or support any rationale for the rule.
The initial argument comes in the first section of the document.
POLICY STATEMENT NO. 1
License holders who carry a handgun on campus must carry it on or about their person at all times or secure their handgun in a locked, privately-owned or leased motor vehicle. The only exception to this is that license holders who reside in University Apartments or who are staff whose employment responsibilities require them to reside in University housing may store their handguns in a gun safe in accordance with the requirements set forth in Policy Statement No. 17. In compliance with Texas Penal Code §46.035(a-1), a license holder may not carry a partially or wholly visible handgun on campus premises or on any university driveway, street, sidewalk or walkway, parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area.
Finding: This policy is reasonable and intended to increase safety by those carrying handguns. This policy does not have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus. The adoption of this policy is consistent with current law and is within the authority granted to university presidents.
I see nothing in the finding of the working group and their proposal for implementation which would ban guns in the dormitories. They’re saying that the weapons must be concealed and carried on or about your person when carrying or locked in your car. The exception they specifically call out is the ability to lock them up in your dorm room in a gun safe. Sure, a good quality gun safe is expensive, but given the small, easily searchable nature of dorm rooms and the fact that other keys for the rooms exist on campus, even I can support that type of a caveat. But that still doesn’t add up to reading the proposal as a ban in the dorms.
The second portion, and the one where the paper seems to go off the rails, is in section 16.
POLICY STATEMENT NO. 16
The following rules should apply to the concealed carry of handguns in University housing. (a) With three exceptions, the concealed carry of handguns should be prohibited in all on-campus residence halls. The concealed carry of handguns should, however, be permitted in University Apartments. (b) The first exception for on-campus residence halls is that the concealed carry of handguns should be permitted in common areas such as lounges, dining areas, and study areas. The second exception is that a resident’s family members should be permitted to carry a concealed handgun on or about their person while visiting. The third exception is that staff members whose employment responsibilities require them to be in University housing should be permitted to carry a concealed handgun on or about their person while present in University housing for business purposes. (c) License holders who reside in University Apartments or who are staff whose employment responsibilities require them to reside in University housing must store their handguns either in a locked, privately-owned or leased motor vehicle or in a gun safe that meets the requirements set forth in Policy Statement No. 17. License holders are also responsible for ensuring that their guests comply with all such rules and regulations.
Here’s the applicable section of the actual law which is in dispute.
(d-1) After consulting with students, staff, and faculty of the institution regarding the nature of the student population, specific safety considerations, and the uniqueness of the campus environment, the president or other chief executive officer of an institution of higher education in this state shall establish reasonable rules, regulations, or other provisions regarding the carrying of concealed handguns by license holders on the campus of the institution or on premises located on the campus of the institution. The president or officer may not establish provisions that generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus of the institution. The president or officer may amend the provisions as necessary for campus safety.
The entire point of the law is that concealed carry is allowed on campus. Further, the law specifies that the school can’t establish any additional rules which, generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying. The dormitories are on campus and occupied by students. (I assume there may be off campus apartments if they are anything like schools near where I live.) But they begin right out of the gate by saying guns should be prohibited with three exceptions. If you can’t store the gun safely in a gun safe in your room, and particularly if you don’t have a car, that certainly sounds like it would have the general effect of prohibiting possession. No explanation is offered as to why or how that comports with the law. Their exceptions cover the common areas, but not the rooms. They also go to the trouble of mentioning gun safes, but apparently a gun safe in a dorm room isn’t good enough. This makes zero sense.
If President Fenves is getting his legal advice on this issue somewhere other than his working group he should come out and specify where this reading is coming from and how he plans to justify it. Otherwise he’s just setting the school up for another long and costly court case which they will no doubt lose while robbing the students of the Second Amendment assurances they only recently received from the legislature and the courts. This makes no sense beyond a mindless thumb in the eye to the voters with whom Fenves clearly disagrees.