The reality of concealed handguns on campus is quickly approaching as Senate Bill 11 is set to go into effect next fall. University officials are finalizing recommendations for how the law should be implemented on campus.
The Campus Carry Task Force released its final draft of recommendations concerning the implementation of SB 11 to students Monday via email.
“Senate Bill 11 requires that the presidents of the public universities implement campus carry regulations, and requires the presidents to create exceptions to campus carry that would be correct for their institutions,” said Vicki Brittain, head of the Campus Carry Task Force.
Brittain said the legislation requires the president of each Texas university to look at three factors when drafting recommendations: safety concerns, the unique campus environment and nature of the student population.
Before the release of the final recommendations, the previous draft was taken to public forums in January and February for feedback before finalization.
The issue most frequently addressed during public forums was concern about the establishment of carve-out zones, areas in which firearms will be prohibited even after the law goes into effect.
“It’s important to remember that while this law does allow each campus to set aside some areas in which to prohibit guns, those areas cannot be extensive,” said Elizabeth Skerpan-Wheeler, task force member and English professor. “There can be nothing to the effect of prohibiting campus carry on a large section of campus.”
Skerpan-Wheeler said although she is on the task force, she does not speak on behalf of it.
Draft recommendations for carve-out zones are based on quantitative and qualitative research, Brittain said. The task force accumulated large amounts of data about the use of on-campus facilities, how many handgun license-holders are believed to be on campus and where they may be during the day.
“Areas that were chosen to be exempted from campus carry are areas that align with current Texas laws governing other kinds of institutions,” Skerpan-Wheeler said. “For example, we have a category for exempting any area that regularly contains children of grades K-12, like the Children’s Development Center.”
The locations of carve-out zones are similar to pre-established state laws regarding places where firearms are prohibited, such as courtrooms and hospitals, Skerpan-Wheeler said.
“Risk factors for every one of the buildings on campus were identified, collected, and analyzed,” Brittain said. “Such factors included class size, location of hazardous chemicals, minor children, counseling and health services and locations where disciplinary hearings are regularly held.”
Other carve-out zones include premises used for competitive sporting, NCAA and UIL events, and any premises used as an official residence, including President Denise Trauth’s house.
Additionally, the first floor of the LBJ Student Center is a carve-out zone because an existing state law prohibits firearms at any location where polling and voting drives are regularly held.
Lauren Stotler, Student Body president, said the student body has had adequate opportunities to speak up prior to the release of the final recommendations.
“There are several different committees within the task force,” Stotler said. “I sat on the student sub-committee, where we drafted a survey that was sent out. There have been plenty of opportunities for students to make their voices heard, and student concerns were heavily considered when making up the recommendations.”
The open survey Stotler mentioned remained on the university website since Trauth’s fall convocation address, and allowed anyone visiting the campus home page to submit commentary.
“Throughout the year, lots of people have provided comments and opinions on where they believe firearms should or shouldn’t be allowed,” Brittain said. “This was very useful, as we were able to gather information from current students, faculty, alumni, parents of prospective students, guests and community members, both here in San Marcos and at our Round Rock campus.”
Although open carry legislation went into effect Jan. 1 and has already been implemented throughout the state, open carry and concealed carry are by no means interchangeable, Brittain said.
“Open carry is not allowed in the university,” Brittain said. “It’s not allowed now, and will never be allowed under the campus carry rules.”
In light of the publicity surrounding the issue, it is important to emphasize that as a public institution, the university has to follow the law, Skerpan-Wheeler said.
“I believe that during the next legislative session, there will be other bills concerning firearms that will come up,” Skerpan-Wheeler said. “I don’t think this is the end of the discussion.”