Texas seems to be going back in time to its frontier days with the open carry and campus laws that will allow licensed individuals to carry concealed handguns on college campuses, and in visible belt or shoulder holsters in the public at large.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the open carry and the campus carry bills in June. The open carry law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. The campus carry bill goes into effect on Aug. 1, 2016. State college and university presidents have the discretion to establish “gun-free zones” in certain areas, such as classrooms, and are currently working to draw up guidelines and signage.
Private universities can opt out of the law and most are expected to do so. Trinity University Pres. Danny Anderson was one of three private university presidents who appeared on a panel at the recent Texas Tribune Festival. He and his colleagues at Austin College in Sherman and Paul Quinn College in Dallas indicated they will opt of the bill to keep guns off their campuses.
“Trinity University has a long-established policy that bans guns from the campus. When SB 11 was enacted and offered private schools an opt out, Trinity University decided to go through a process of revisiting faculty, staff, and campus constituency about how it would like to proceed,” said Sharon Jones Schweitzer, the assistant vice president for external relations. “It is the University’s hope that through this process we will reaffirm our current policy of banning concealed weapons on the University campus.”
Business owners can ban open carry on their premises by posting a sign in both English and Spanish at all entrances. The font must be one-inch high, in block letters, and the English and Spanish portions must be in the same sized font.
Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123), who voted against open carry, has taken matters into his own hands to distribute signs to small business owners in San Antonio.
“The size of the font is really unfortunate if you’re a small mom and pop business because they’re large and ugly,” Bernal said.
Small business owners are required to post one sign to ban concealed carry and another sign to ban open carry.
“Most people are O.K. with concealed carry, but open carry goes too far in their opinion,” Bernal said.
When Bernal began distributing signs, he realized many of the small business owners didn’t know the rules and regulations for the signs.
“What is interesting to us is people have called for the signs but they also are calling because they are saying, ‘We don’t know how this works. We don know what this means.’ The state is offering no guidance and no blueprint (for the small businesses),” Bernal said. “They passed a law and they said, ‘You guys deal with it,’ which is wildly irresponsible.”
Bernal has printed 1,000 signs for distribution and has been giving them away at a steady pace, but he hasn’t yet encountered a rush of people in need of a sign. The open carry law goes into effect in January, so Bernal wanted to act now to make signage available.
“I’m doing it in October so we don’t create panic or fear,” he said.
Anti-gun activists often chastise Second Amendment supporters for carrying firearms to instill fear.
“They always respond or threaten to respond with a display of firearms because they know that instills fear and it is so distasteful,” Bernal said.
Instead of using tools like Change.org or letter-writing campaigns, gun activists often use guns as a scare tactic, Bernal said.
“They always say, ‘We are going to show up with our guns,’ because they know fear is the differentiating factor for them,” he said.
Beginning in August, properly licensed individuals can carry concealed handguns on four-year state college and university grounds, including inside of buildings. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-116) helped write the final version of the campus carry law that allows campus presidents to determine the locations where guns will be allowed.
“The pressure is on (President Ricardo) Romo, which was my intention,” Martinez Fischer said.
While the president has the power to develop a campus policy, the regents must approve the president’s policy with a two-thirds vote. If regents reject the proposal, it goes back to the president for reworking. Fischer sought to give campus presidents as much say as possible to reflect the unique community surrounding each institution.
“The reflection of (President Romo’s) policy should mirror the values of San Antonio and our San Antonio community,” he said.
Fischer believes the campus president’s localized control over the campus carry bill is a victory for Democrats.
“It is a significant victory for faculty, a tremendous victory for those who want to err on the side of gun safety,” he said. “For gun rights activists, this is a defeat.”
On Wednesday, students and professors hosted an anti-gun rally at the University of Texas at San Antonio‘s (UTSA) Downtown Campus. Students and faculty lined up to sign a Change.org petition addressed to UTSA President Ricardo Romo to keep guns out of the classroom. As of Wednesday afternoon, 828 supporters had signed the petition.
Walter Wilson, a UTSA associate professor of political science, helped lead the rally Wednesday afternoon. Students, faculty, and outside organizations held signs in opposition to allowing guns on campus and in the classroom.
“We are here to provide President Romo the support he needs in order to establish classrooms, offices, and other learning and research areas on campus as gun-free zones,” Wilson said.
Wilson objects to guns in the classroom because the weapons could intimidate students who do not use firearms and cause them to refrain from voicing his or her opinion on certain subjects.
“You have to have a safe and free-flowing environment without intimidation for students to engage in the kinds of conversations they need to in order to learn anything,” he said. “Especially for our minority students, they don’t want to be put in situations where they might be suspected of having a gun. We see so many instances of mistakes made when somebody is suspected of having a weapon and they don’t.”
Ayanna Allen is an African-American sociology graduate student at UTSA. She doesn’t want guns in the classroom because they might prohibit her from speaking her mind during class.
“If I already feel pressure that I can’t bring up certain things (about race during classroom discussions) … you add weapons to that and there might be somebody angry in class about that and you’re dead. A gun is made to kill, so why do you need that in class?” Allen said. “Students are on edge all of the time. We drink Starbucks. We take Adderall. Why add guns to that?”
Joel Reyes, a UTSA student and a member of the National Guard, supports the carrying of guns on campus.
“In my opinion, since the law was passed, I think we should be allowed to carry if we feel like we need to defend ourselves,” he said. “I’d much rather they have much stricter rules and policies on how people get the weapons than just completely banning them altogether.”
Reyes, who recently transferred from to Army to the National Guard, said his military service has influenced his views on firearms.
“I know I can handle a gun safely and I know that they are just tools,” he said. “The real issue is not the guns themselves, but it’s the people behind them.”
For more information about UTSA’s campus carry policy, visit its website.