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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Campus

Campus carry work group to release first draft early this month


campus carry infographic

The Campus Carry Work Group plans to release its first draft on a campus-wide concealed handgun policy this month.

The Campus Carry bill, otherwise known as Senate Bill 11, was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June 2015 and allows for the legal concealed carry of handguns in all four-year public universities in Texas beginning Aug. 1.

According to the University of Houston Police Department Campus Carry Work Group website, only persons with a state-mandated concealed handgun license are allowed to carry a concealed weapon on campus so long as the area has not been designated as a weapons free area.  A person must also be at least 21 years of age, undergo training and meet other statutory requirements to obtain a CHL in the State of Texas.

The Campus Carry Work Group is comprised of 15 members from all departments and backgrounds, including the Faculty Senate, Student Government Association, human resources department and student housing.

After taking note of the community’s thoughts from open forums and an online survey that is still available, Marcilynn Burke, associate dean of the Law Center and CCWG member, said the group has worked tediously to consider all aspects of the issue.

“We’ve taken all of the input that we’ve gotten from the campus community, and we’ve tried to look at it very carefully,” Burke said. “There’s no broad brush we can paint and say ‘This is the policy.’ We really have to look at each of these areas and the types of activities individually.”

Burke said the work group has considered other gun laws and UH’s policies, including policies associated with guns in medical facilities, before drawing conclusions.

“There are laws that prohibit the taking of handguns into hospitals,” Burke said. “We don’t have a hospital, but we do have clinical areas – we have (the) optometry (college), the counseling center, the health care center… (and) we think the rationale should apply to the medical services we provide on campus.”

The law provides for concealed carry in public spaces as long as the area has not been designated by the University as a weapons-free area. Sporting events such as football games are already defined as weapons-free areas, and Burke said the policy aims to identify other areas that will follow the same protocol, such as laboratories with dangerous chemicals and student housing and residence halls.

“We want to look at the areas where we know a lot of students will be present,” Burke said. “So when trying to decide what to do about student housing – should we allow it everywhere? Well, we don’t think that should be the right answer, but we think that there certainly should be places where people can be on campus and have a concealed handgun in their living space. Those are the certain things we are trying to balance.”

Burke said weapons-free zones would be identified with large signs written in English and Spanish and displayed to the public in a clearly visible manner.

“The UH department of public safety will be responsible for enforcing this law, just as they enforce the rules today with respect to the carrying of handguns,” Burke said.

Burke said one major aspect to consider about the law is that it will not apply to the majority of the student population because the vast majority of students are under 21 and therefore cannot own a handgun legally.

“It’s important to keep in mind that the real impact that this policy will have on campus culture will likely be marginal when you consider the small number of folks on campus who are eligible and willing to carry a concealed handgun on campus,” Student Government Association President Shaun Theriot-Smith said.

While many people are divided on the issue, the Faculty Senate recently openly opposed campus carry in December in a resolution where it stated “weapons designed to end human life have no place in the academic life of the University, except when carried by duly-authorized law officers.” The Senate urged President Khator and UH administration “to restore the protected academic space envisioned by the founders of the United States of America.”

While President Khator does have somewhat of a final say in the policy, Burke said she thinks some people are over-estimating the amount of discretion she has.

“The law very clearly says that the president may not establish rules that generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting people from carrying concealed handguns on campus,” Burke said. “We are trying to work in between those two ends of the spectrum: that one, it would be allowed everywhere, and on the other end, that it would be allowed practically nowhere. So I think that is what people are having difficulty grappling with – that while the president does have some discretion, there are limits to that discretion.”

After the draft is released, the CCWG will consider recommendations from the entire UH community. In March, revisions to the policy will be sent to President Khator for approval, the policy will be finalized in April, and by May, the work group will present the policy to the Board of Regents for approval. By August, the policy will officially be implemented.

Students, faculty and staff can still voice their concerns  by participating in the campus survey or emailing questions or concerns to [email protected]. An additional FAQ with detailed information is also available.

[email protected]

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