UT campus carry task force urges schools to ban guns in as many places as possible

A campus carry task force convened by the University of Texas system issued a report this week encouraging schools ban firearms in five types of facilities, in violation of the law.

In a memo sent to UT system Chancellor William McRaven and each of the system’s 14 university presidents Monday, the Concealed Carry Working Group suggests—but just “as a starting point”—that administrators should prohibit guns in child-care facilities, patient care areas, sporting venues, laboratories with dangerous chemicals, and animal care areas on campus.

The task force, composed of representatives from the UT system and each of the 14 schools that comprise it, was charged with interpreting the state’s new law allowing concealed carry on public college and university campuses, specifically with an eye toward identifying ways of restricting concealed carry within the bounds of the law before it takes effect on August 1.

“The law allows institution presidents to ‘establish reasonable rules’ and to evaluate ‘the nature of the student population, specific safety considerations, and the uniqueness of the campus environment’,” the missive notes, but adds that “a president ‘may not establish provisions that generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus of the institution.”

According to the report, schools will not have to take action to ban concealed carry in places where it is already prohibited by state law, such as collegiate sporting events, but “recommends that presidents consider, as a starting point,” five additional “exclusion zones.”

Some of the suggestions merely apply to “areas analogous to state law requirements that prohibit concealed handguns”—such as health care facilities, child-care centers, and ticketed sporting events—but the working group also advises implementing prohibitions encompassing “areas in which discharge of a firearm might cause widespread harm, such as laboratories with extremely dangerous chemicals, biologic agents, or explosive agents” and “animal care areas … in which protocols increase the risk of discharge or contamination of a concealed handgun, or its unanticipated separation from the license holder.”

On the other hand, the task force was unable to reach a consensus on whether to recommend bans in the two areas of campus that have led to the greatest contention: classrooms and dormitories. In both cases, the group was divided between those who believe that the law’s intent is to explicitly allow concealed carry in those areas, and those who believe that the law empowers schools to impose any restriction short of banning guns from campus completely.

Many administrators and faculty members have spoken out in opposition to the campus carry law since its passage in June, expressing fears that allowing firearms in classrooms and offices would have a chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom.

[RELATED: UT prof says campus carry will ‘shut down’ free speech]

In September, more than 150 faculty members even signed a petition declaring that they would ban concealed carry in their classrooms, regardless of the law’s provisions or any rules that might be adopted by their institutions.

[RELATED: 150 UT professors vow to defy campus carry law]

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, who sponsored campus carry, responded to such concerns in November by requesting an official interpretation of the law from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, specifically with regard to whether the law’s meaning conforms to its wording.

“The Act prohibits public colleges from adopting any rule, regulation, or other provision prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns onto the campus of the institution,” Birdwell reminded Paxton, adding, “[f]or purposes of the act, 'campus' is defined to include 'all land and buildings owned or leased by the college’.”

[RELATED: Texas AG asked to rule on legality of campus carry restrictions]

Paxton sent a response the following month confirming that the law does not allow either universities or individual professors to ban guns in classrooms or residential buildings, and while he does note that “occasional, reasonable, temporary restrictions that are prominently posted on the institution’s website” would most likely be allowed under the law’s exceptions for safety, his wording leaves open the implication that permanent restrictions of this nature would constitute a violation.

Individuals who believe their legal rights have been violated by a university’s rules and regulations governing campus carry, Paxton added, would have the option of taking legal action against the school, which could result in the offending provisions being overturned by the courts.

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