A demonstrator at UTSA protests the campus carry law.
In less than two months — on the 50th anniversary of the University of Texas Tower shooting
— concealed handgun license holders will be able to carry firearms on public college campuses in Texas.
The “campus carry” law, passed in May 2015, will impact three San Antonio schools starting August 1: the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
Although each campus has devised a strategy for implementing the law, a few questions remain and schools are hoping that their plans will be sufficient in uncharted territory.
“This is new to all of us. Public universities are a place where people come to be educated. Now this new element has been introduced into it,” said Joe Izbrand, UTSA’s chief communication officer and a member of its campus carry task force. “To some degree we’re waiting to see if there’s any last-minute fine tuning that needs to take place before everything takes place full-scale.”
Private colleges and universities were allowed to opt out of the law altogether, and most have. Two-year public colleges, such as those in the Alamo Colleges system, will have to implement the law in 2017.
Task forces at each institution then took nearly a year to finalize recommendations for their own campus, such as specific locations where firearms would be banned. Schools in the University of Texas system submitted their plans to the University of Texas Board of Regents, which governs the system.
The board is now reviewing those plans. It will either approve or revise each school's plan sometime this summer. The board will also rule on grey areas such as whether firearm carriers may keep a bullet in the gun’s chamber, and whether they can carry a gun in a backpack or tucked into a belt rather than in a holster.
In the meantime, schools are developing training modules for faculty, staff and students on the new law, and signage indicating where firearms aren’t allowed. Each institution will foot the bill for those, but don’t yet have cost estimates for them. They’re unfunded mandates for a law that UTSA and other schools didn’t support.
“We do not believe that guns belong on a university campus. We also believe that part of teaching young people about being good citizens is adherence to laws whether you agree with them or not. … We have to accept that this is the situation that we are in,” Izbrand said.
Izbrand expects additional — likely unanticipated — questions to trickle in from students and staff as August nears. The practical realities of the law will reveal themselves “incrementally” once it takes effect, he said.
Michael Parks, chief of police for the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, echoed that sentiment. He sat on task forces for both UTHSCA and the UT system as a whole.
Since the law’s passage, Parks has worked on “demystifying the legislation” to the campus community, something he said will ramp up as August 1 nears. But in addition to addressing concerns of those who don’t carry firearms, Parks said that his department has also invested time working with concealed handgun license holders. Much of that training has revolved around what to do if indeed they use their gun on campus.
“When you pull your firearm out … here’s the smartest way to do it, here’s what you do when law enforcement arrives so you’re not confused as one of the suspects,” Parks said. “Because we see you potentially as a threat. We don’t know you personally.”
Parks said that if a CHL holder draws their weapon, they should quickly identify themselves to law enforcement, holster their weapon and put their hands up so as not to be confused for a criminal.
These aren’t new concepts for Parks and his department, he said. The department has trained for any wrinkle the new law might produce, as well as active shooter scenarios. But it’s impossible to predict all the ramifications until the proposed policies become a reality.
“You’ve got the best-laid plans. We believe institutionally we’ve made a balanced decision, but you would always go back … in six to 12 months and say ‘Well let’s reevaluate this,’” Parks said.