With the passage of Senate Bill 11, Texas Republicans won a major victory for the Open Carry movement. Across the country, there has been a concerted effort to decrease restrictions that prohibit firearms on college campuses. In 2015, Texas became one of eight states to require public institutions to implement campus carry policies.
Twenty-three other states allow public and private institutions to determine whether they support a campus carry policy, Texas Republicans refused to give public colleges the same access to self-determination as their private counterparts.
While public universities struggle to toe the line between safety for their students and their now-legal obligation to implement policies that meet the legislature’s standards for campus carry, over twenty private colleges have exercised their right to opt out altogether.
Many universities considered the input of students, faculty, and staff in their decision on whether to allow guns to be carried on their campuses. Southern Methodist University reported that those who expressed their opinions on the matter supported opting out at a ratio of ten to one.
An overwhelming number of the universities that have opted out pointed to safety as their priority in this decision. For Edward Burger, President of Southwestern University in Georgetown, “The safety and well-being of our students are of utmost importance.” Citing safety as the “highest priority” for Trinity University, President Danny Anderson explained, “A weapons-free environment is the best learning environment for a residential campus like Trinity University.” While the majority of private institutions are still working to determine what their policy will be, none of the universities have yet to opt in to a campus carry framework.
But what about public institutions? Whether or not they believe that allowing campus carry will increase safety or be the most appropriate policy for their campus, the legislature has forced their hand.
On February 17th, University President Gregory Fenves announced the plans for the University of Texas’ required open carry policy. While the policy does create many restrictions, including giving professors the option to designate their offices as gun-free zones, it is not without controversy. Many faculty take issue with the decision to allow guns to be carried in classrooms. “I cannot adopt a policy that has the general effect of excluding licensed concealed handguns from campus,” Fenves explained in an open letter, echoing the findings of a working group that determined such a provision would constitute a ban under the new law.
By strong-arming public institutions in order to score political points with the NRA and conservative primary voters, Texas Republicans guaranteed that access to safety on college campuses will be out of reach for many students and their families.
The cost of a private post-secondary education continues to skyrocket in Texas, causing many families to rely on public universities to provide a cost-effective path to quality higher education for their children. Once the campus carry law is implemented in its entirety this August, the policy will effectively create two classes of Texas families: those that can afford the cost of safety at a private institution, and those that can’t.
As public institutions continue to grapple with the question of safety under the threat of legal action should their restrictions be deemed too far-reaching for campus carry supporters, parents and students face their own financial struggle: should they take on student loans, burdening themselves and their children with decades of debt, or will they send them to a college where campus carry is permitted?
No family should have to choose between saddling their children with debt or ensuring their safety. Because of the Texas GOP’s campus carry law, many will have to do just that this fall.