Certain licensed gun holders are now allowed to carry concealed handguns into Texas’ public college classrooms after a new law went into effect on Monday.
Supporters of the controversial measure say it can help prevent mass shootings, while critics claim it could endanger safety on school campuses.
The "campus carry" law, pushed by the Republican legislative majority and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, made Texas among a small group of states that allow students to carry concealed handguns on campus.
The law took effect on the 50th anniversary of a shooting rampage at the University of Texas at Austin, when sniper Charles Whitman — an engineering student and former U.S. Marine — took aim from a clock tower and killed 17 people. The incident marked the first mass shooting at an American school.
One of the Texas law’s supporters is Claire Wilson James, the first person to be shot by Whitman. Pregnant at the time, she was hit by a bullet in the belly and lost her unborn child.
Starting at four-year institutions
The new law permits license holders at least 21 years old to carry concealed handguns at four-year public colleges and universities, including the University of Texas system, which has more than 214,000 students. The state’s public two-year campuses and junior colleges have until August 2017 to implement the law.
Each institution can determine certain “sensitive” areas where handguns are prohibited.
Guns must be holstered and kept out of sight. They cannot be displayed in class.
“What campus carry does is that It only authorizes those who go through the special training and background to carry firearms,” according to the governor’s office.
Private institutions — such as Texas Christian, Rice and Baylor universities — still can ban guns under the new state law. The only private college that has allowed guns on campus is Amberton University in the Dallas suburb of Garland. It has 2,000 students.
Some University of Texas professors lobbied against the law, arguing that youth, firearms and college life could “make up for a deadly situation.”
At the University of Texas at Austin, the system’s flagship campus, many students and faculty members protested against the new measure.
Administrators, who estimate that “fewer than 1 percent” of the campus’ roughly 50,000 students are licensed to carry, last week posted an update about the provision on the UT website.
Faculty can declare their offices a “gun-free zone” by posting signs announcing it.
In student dorms, residents can have handguns in common areas such as dining rooms and lounges, but not in their private rooms. “Remember that there is no storage on campus except in a privately owned vehicle,” the campus website says.
"There are so many students battling the stress of campus. Some are unstable and we don’t know who has a gun,” Courtney Dang, a third-year UT student at Austin, told Reuters.
Protection vs. safety
Opponents of the law fear the measure will lead to an increase on campus suicide.
Gun rights advocates consider the law an important protection, saying it’s key to self-defense in case of gun violence.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Texas is among eight states permitting concealed weapons to be carried on college campuses. The others are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin.