UT president will allow handguns in classrooms

University of Texas Tower, UT Tower

AUSTIN (KXAN) –The seat of Texas government can be seen from campus, lately it’s been felt here as well. Last year lawmakers said the Second Amendment rights of students outweigh the wants of the campus as a whole.

The University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves has released his decision regarding the controversial campus carry law, which would allow handguns in classrooms. After reviewing the task force recommendations, Fenves says he will allow handguns in classrooms.

In a letter to UT students, faculty and staff, Fenves said while he personally does not believe handguns belong on campus, he is obligated to enforce the law. Additionally, he has established another group, Campus Carry Implementation Task Force, to develop rules for handguns on campus.

GOING IN-DEPTH: Where guns are allowed

Guns allowed:

  • University Apartments
  • Common areas of dorms (lounges, dining areas and study areas)
  • Classrooms
  • Assigned private offices (up to the discretion of the staff member)

Guns prohibited:

  • UT Elementary School
  • UT Athletic events
  • Child-care facilities
  • Dorms (permitted in common areas)
  • Laboratories
  • Patient-care areas

“I do not believe handguns belong on a university campus, so this decision has been the greatest challenge of my presidency to date,” Fenves said in a press release to the campus. “I empathize with the many faculty, staff, students and parents of students who signed petitions, sent emails and letters, and organized to ban guns from campus and especially classrooms. As a professor, I understand the deep concerns raised by so many. However, as president, I have an obligation to uphold the law.”

Fenves will adopt the 25 recommendations given to him by the Campus Carry Working Group he originally established to create potential campus policies. After the new implementation task force forms policy guidelines, the University of Texas System Board of Regents will have 90 days to amend the rules with a vote of two-thirds majority.

A UT panel released their recommendations for policies to be put in place for handguns on campus. Specifically they say guns should be banned from dorms, offices, labs and child care facilities. However, the panel also said UT’s more than 50,000 students spend most of their time on campus in the classroom, therefore they believe by keeping handguns out of the classroom they are violating the campus carry law.

“As Americans we have a long tradition of refusing to comply with unjust or unsafe laws,” said English Professor Lisa Moore. She founded the group Gun Free UT, a group of nearly 2,000 faculty and staff who don’t want guns in their classrooms and wanted President Fenves to join their cause.

“We have other work to do at the University and we need him to stand up for us, that’s his job,” said Moore.

“In the end, as the president of the university, as the head of a state agency, I do have a responsibility to carry out the law,” said President Fenves at a 2:30 p.m. press conference. He says guns shouldn’t be allowed in classrooms and this is the hardest decision he’s made as President.

Not enough for grad student Robert Oxford at the press conference.

“If it’s too tough a decision to make, maybe he shouldn’t be the one making that decision,” said Oxford.

“There are lives at stake!,” a woman yelled at the same press conference. They want President Fenves to stand up to his bosses at the legislature. Fighting the Republican government and the Republican appointed UT Board of Regents could put funding, university policy and Fenves’s job at risk.

The next step in the campus carry process won’t come until the school year ends. The Board of Regents is taking the plans from each UT campus. They have until May to approve them. After that the law takes effect August 1.

No matter what UT decided, they could face legal problems. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote an opinion saying guns need to be allowed in classrooms, which UT will allow and dorm rooms, which they will not. Paxton said if UT does not comply with both, they could face a possible lawsuit from the state.

On the other side, last month we introduced you to UT’s Doctor Steven Weinberg. He’s a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Weinberg told us he will continue to ban guns in his classes next fall — and is willing to be the “test case” in court.

UT says Concealed Carry is not allowed in the dorms.

Mainly because most students who live on campus are under 21, the legal age for a gun license. Another concern are the close living spaces and fear of theft and misuse among roommates, but there are exceptions. The university says concealed carry is allowed in common areas like dining halls, lounges and study areas.

Homero Trevino says, “I think it’s a great idea because I feel safer with other people having guns.”

Lawmakers wrote in a provision allowing private schools to opt out — allowing them to continue banning guns. Tuesday, we learned the biggest private university in the state, Baylor, is opting out. Large private schools, including TCU, Rice and SMU, plan to still ban guns.

In our area, St. Edwards, Southwestern and Huston-Tillotson Universities say they will continue to ban guns. So far Concordia University has not reached a decision.

How Campus Carry will work at UT

Only licensed handguns owners will be able to bring their guns to campus as long as it is locked on their person. Additionally handgun holders can not carry guns with a chambered ammunition round in it.

Those who live in University apartments must store their handguns in a secured safe or locked vehicle. Residents of dormitories however, are not allowed to have handguns in their rooms, but can carry them in common areas, such as lounges, dining and study areas.

The decision to allow handguns in staff offices has been left up to the individual faculty-member. Many University professor have voiced their opinions opposing the new law, which would go into effect Aug. 1. The Senate Bill 11 was passed last year causing state-wide outrage over the safety of students and faculty on campus.

“With the introduction of handguns into these environments, many faculty members, students and staffers have expressed concerns that permitting the carrying of handguns in offices will inhibit open dialogue especially when discussing difficult and sensitive issues with peers, students and others,” the policy states.

Private universities have the option of opting out of the new law. St. Edward’s University has already released their decision to ban handguns on their campus.

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