This year marked a change for Texas public universities with the passage of campus carry, inciting polarizing responses toward the law.
As the 84th Legislature met in 2015, the House filed Senate Bill 11 on Jan. 26 to allow properly licensed people over the age of 21 to carry concealed handguns on a college campus. Following a 98-47 vote that passed in the Texas House, the Texas Senate passed the bill with a 20-11 vote on May 30. Gov. Greg Abbott signed this bill into law on June 13.
A compromise in the bill provides universities some discretion to decide where guns are not allowed, but it prevents the universities from making the whole campus a gun-free zone.
In August, University president Gregory Fenves formed a working group to submit options he will consider before implementing the law at UT on Aug. 1, 2016.
Steven Goode, chair of the working group and law professor at the University, said the biggest challenge is making sure people understand the law. Following two public forums and a forum held by the Legislative Student Organizations, Goode said people seem less confused about the law than before.
“I think the message that it is not an open carry law is starting to come through, … so to that extent, I think people are starting to understand what the law does and what it doesn’t do,” Goode told The Daily Texan in October. “There is still — on all sides of this issue — a great deal of emotion, and that’s quite understandable.”
Ellen Spiro, a member of anti-campus carry group Gun-Free UT and radio-television-film professor, said the group’s goal is to present the facts of why campus carry is not appropriate for a university. Spiro said guns should not be allowed because of students’ mental stress.
“I once had a student who shared suicidal feelings with me during my office hours,” Spiro said in September. “I asked him he if had a gun. Thankfully he said no, and I walked him to the UT Mental Health Center. If that student had a gun in his pocket, he might not be alive today.”
Economics professor emeritus Daniel Hamermesh stated in a letter of resignation to Fenves in October that he would no longer teach at UT in August 2016, despite signing a contract for the falls of 2015, 2016 and 2017. Hamermesh said the new law will lower education standards at UT.
“This just makes UT a less attractive place, and people we want to recruit have lots of alternatives,” Hamermesh said in October. “I think it’s going to make it very much harder to hire faculty, and essentially what the legislature did was worsen the quality of higher education in the state of Texas.”
But faculty are not the only ones expressing their concerns — students have shown a division of opinions on the issue.
Plan II freshman Ana Lopez said she is opposed to campus carry on campus.
“Had I known this law would have been passed or supported, I would not have enrolled [at UT] altogether,” Lopez said in October. “Considering UT is full of so many intelligent students who are pressured academically, arming students is the worst idea.”
Graphic by Sam Limerick | Daily Texan Staff
Justin Stone, a UT law student, said he supports the bill because he has been a concealed handgun license holder for several years and said those carrying a licensed weapon are not a threat to anyone at the University.
“I do not want to have to use my firearm, but I am not afraid to do so,” Stone said in September. “That being said, we are not vigilantes. We are not a danger to this campus. We are not the bad guys you read about in the news.”
Following the campus forum and protests, a new anti-campus carry movement picked up steam. UT alumna Jessica Jin started “Campus Dildo Carry” to protest SB11. Jin planned to protest this law on Aug. 24, 2016, asking that people carry dildos on campus. This event reached 4,100 followers.
Although carrying dildos openly is a violation of the Texas Penal Code, Jin said she is doing this to show the irrationality of campus carry.
“I need this proliferation of dildos to offer people a visual representation of what it would be like if we all carried guns,” Jin said in October. “It should look ridiculous to you. That is the point.”
With the law already in place, people will wait to see how UT responds. The working group will submit options to Fenves by late November and the president will announce UT’s campus carry policies in December.