When it comes to guns on campus, University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven is in a bit of an awkward position.
A month ago, the former Navy admiral was one of the most vocal opponents of legislation allowing people to carry guns into university buildings. Now, the campus carry bill has become law, and McRaven must help determine exactly where guns will be allowed at the nine universities he oversees.
But he can’t simply ban guns altogether. Instead, he’ll walk a fine line between his views on safety and his job upholding the spirit of a law passed by a Legislature with strong views on gun rights. And he’ll try to do it with passionate advocates on both sides closely watching.
Similar scenarios will play out at schools across the state. Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has signed Senate Bill 11 into law, each four-year state school has 14 months to come up with its own policy on where concealed handguns may be carried by students or others with a state license. The new law provides few specifics on where those guns can or cannot be banned, leaving the process open to passionate debate.
“We are going to figure out how to make sure we do everything we can to protect the faculty and the students and the visitors and not impact academic freedom in any way,” McRaven said in an interview soon after SB 11 passed. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure we’re meeting the full intent of this bill.”
For the most part, the schools have offered few hints about how they will interpret the law. A few university presidents have sent out campus-wide emails saying they will consult students, faculty and staff before any decisions are made. Most discussions won’t start until fall, when more people are on campus.
“We are already aware that this is going to be one of the biggest issues that we are going to have next year,” said Adam Alattry, student body president at the University of North Texas for the 2015-16 year.
Alattry was opposed to campus carry, joining 12 other student body presidents in writing a letter to Abbott asking him not to sign the bill. But he acknowledged that some groups on his campus strongly favor campus carry. Reaching a compromise acceptable to everyone will be difficult, he said.
Chuck Hemptsead, executive director of the Texas Association of College Teachers, agreed. He said that an “overwhelming majority” of his members are opposed to allowing guns in classrooms.
“I think it will be an emotional thing,” he said.
Imposing too many restrictions would risk pushback from pro-gun groups and lawmakers, and legislators might be tempted to repeal the campuses’ autonomy in 2017 if that happens. And gun rights activists say they’ll be closely watching to make sure the schools don’t go too far.
“We know that is a possibility and we are prepared to take the necessary measures to protect students, faculty and staff,” said Michael Newbern, communications director for Students for Concealed Carry.
See here and here for some background. My guess is that private schools, with the possible exception of some smaller religious schools, will maintain their current no-guns-on-campus rules, as they are allowed to do under this law. Public schools like UT will have to walk a very fine line, with a lot of people watching them closely and a lot of very strong feelings involved. The law is fairly vague on how they can restrict guns, which gives them some leeway but will also invite a lot of scrutiny and criticism if they are perceived as going “too far”. Which, for some people, is any restrictions at all. There is no way to make everyone happy – hell, there’s probably no way to make most people anything less than disgruntled – and anything less than an “all guns all the time anywhere” policy will ensure that at least the fanatics will be back to push for complete victory in 2017. I don’t envy Chancellor McRaven or anyone else their task.