When the Texas Legislature passed a campus carry bill during the 2015 legislative session, part of the law allowed the state’s universities to create rules designating certain areas of campus to remain gun-free, as long as those rules were not thwarting the law’s goals and making it impossible to carry a gun on campus.

Texas A&M University (TAMU)  announced its proposed rules for carrying guns on the campuses within the TAMU system on Wednesday, providing very few restrictions other than honoring existing private contracts and specifically identified safety issues. The sharp contrast with how the issue has been handled at TAMU and at the University of Texas at Austin illustrates many of the divisions in the gun control debate.

What Texas’ campus carry law actually does

Previous Texas law already allowed those who qualified for a concealed handgun license (CHL) to carry on the campus grounds, but not to bring their weapons inside. The campus carry bill, which will be effective on August 1, expanded the rights of CHL holders to also carry inside campus buildings. An open carry bill also passed during the 2015 session, thereby converting “concealed” handgun licenses to simply handgun licenses, but the campus carry bill was written to still only allow concealed carry at colleges.

Texas only grants handgun licenses to those who are 21 years of age or older (or qualified military veterans). The law also requires background checks, safety and proficiency training. The total costs for the required training classes and application fees are several hundred dollars. The bottom line is that the majority of college students — especially the undergraduates young enough to still live on campus — are too young to qualify for a CHL or would be otherwise unable or unwilling to meet all these requirements.

TAMU’s new policy

The TAMU proposed rules grant broad rights to carry concealed weapons on campus, in compliance with the new law. In bold print, the policy as posted on their website, states, “No rule proposed by any Texas A&M System member prohibits a licensed holder from carrying a concealed handgun in classrooms or residential facilities owned and operated, or leased and operated, by the institution.

TAMU provided a few exceptions to this broad policy. For example, three of the institutions within the TAMU system (Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M International University, and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi) have a third-party management company that leases their residential facilities. The TAMU rules state that they “acknowledge the property right of the management company to determine restrictions on the possession and storage of weapons in those facilities” and “generally…will defer to the property rights of lessees.”

State law also continues to prohibit guns at interscholastic events, which TAMU will honor.

Finally, the law listed several categories where additional exceptions are allowed, including scientific laboratories where the presence of firearms would create a hazard (e.g., from interacting with strong magnets in use in the lab, or because of the risk of adverse interactions with flammable materials, etc.), campus disciplinary hearings, health and psychological treatment facilities, etc.

According to the Texas Tribune:

The proposed rules have been approved by Chancellor John Sharp and A&M System legal staff. They will be reviewed by the A&M System Board of Regents later this month. State law doesn’t require board approval of campus carry rules, but it does allow regents to amend the rules if they disagree with them.

TAMU Chancellor: I trust my students and staff

TAMU’s approach to the campus carry issue wasn’t surprising. TAMU consistently ranks among the most conservative colleges in America, especially for a public, non-religiously affiliated school. The Aggies also have a long and proud military tradition. In 1918, the entire senior class enlisted to fight during WWI, and Aggies have continued to serve in the military in large numbers.

When the campus carry bill was being debated by the Texas Legislature, TAMU Chancellor John Sharp sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in which he said that he had “complete trust and faith in our students.”

“Having licensed gun owners in possession of legal weapons on our campuses does not raise safety concerns for me personally,” wrote Sharp. “The real question is this: ‘Do I trust my students, faculty and staff to work and live responsibly under the same laws at the university as they do at home?’ Of course I do!”

Very different reaction at the University of Texas

Texas’ other major university system, the University of Texas (UT), has had a very different reaction to the campus carry bill, both officially from the top and from the faculty and student body. Both former UT President Bill Powers and Chancellor William McRaven, as well as former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, publicly stated their opposition to campus carry and McRaven sent an open letter to Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Speaker of the House Joe Straus outlining his objections to the bill.

In February 2015, a mathematics professor who was the chair of the UT Faculty Council sent an email from an official UT email account to the entire UT Austin faculty that listed an upcoming public hearing on the bill and urged the faculty to speak up in opposition.

As Legal Insurrection reported, UT Austin President Gregory Fenves vowed to ban guns in dormitories, despite comment from Attorney General Ken Paxton that such a broad ban would be in conflict with the law.

After the law passed, several UT professors announced they were resigning, including a tenured economics professor and the dean of the architecture school.

Even more bizarre than quitting a cushy tenured position was the “#CocksNotGlocks” effort to organize students to bring sex toys to class. That protest is apparently scheduled for the first day of classes this upcoming August, after the law will be in effect.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.


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