Starting in August, public universities in Texas must allow concealed guns on campus. Although conservative and, in some cases, Christian lawmakers championed the new “campus carry” law, most of the state’s private religious universities are opting out. So far, more than 20 private colleges say they will continue to ban guns on campus. At least two are still in the decision-making process.
Houston Baptist University (HBU) and LeTourneau University in Longview are submitting input from students, faculty and staff before making a decision. Officials at both schools have held forums and set up surveys to gather opinions.
“It’s not an easy decision,” said John Holmes, associate vice president of facility operations at HBU. “We got feedback that ran the gamut. This is not something we wanted to enter into casually.”
Some of the state’s largest private schools – Baylor, Texas Christian, and Southern Methodist universities – already have said they will not change their gun policies. Baylor’s president, Ken Starr, called the new law “very unwise public policy.”
Texas lawmakers last year passed the “campus carry” law that requires public universities to allow concealed handgun license holders – who must be at least 21 years old – to bring their weapons into campus buildings and classrooms. Private institutions of higher learning, which often have religious affiliations and conservative beliefs, can decide whether to allow guns on school property.
Holmes said the most difficult aspect of the law for private schools is that they must determine on their own how to respond to it.
“This was dropped on the universities without clarity, and we have to figure it out,” he said, adding that the state’s school marshal program, put in place after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, was much more clear-cut.
HBU is located in an urban area and has its own armed police department. Holmes said many people believe the school already is well-protected but acknowledged gun rights are important to people in Texas.
“There are individuals who feel they may be the best caretaker of their own safety,” he said.
At least 20 states allow campus carry to some extent, but Texas is making it a right defined by state law. Some public school administrators and faculty, law enforcement and students strongly oppose the law, saying guns have no business in the classroom. University of Texas President Greg Fenves and the school’s system chancellor, William McRaven, who headed the U.S. Special Operations Command responsible for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, both disagree with the law.
“Private universities have made a statement that handguns do not belong in campus buildings. I agree. “Fenves said. “We don’t have a choice.”
State Sen. Brian Birdwell, who wrote the law, said he had to protect the public’s “God-given” right of self-defense on public property but also private rights.
At LeTourneau, dean of students Kristy Morgan said some factors that contribute to the school’s decision-making process might not be obvious to the general public. For example, the school would need to provide storage for weapons carried by students in the school’s aviation program.
“Students are climbing into airplanes every day,” she said. “We would need storage for people to disarm so that they can do some of the work they would need to do on an airplane or in a lab. Some of the equipment is pretty sensitive.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he’s not surprised many schools are opting out of the requirement to allow guns on campus. “I don’t know why colleges are fixated with this. I think it makes campuses safer,” he said.
But Holmes said the decision requires time for “thinking and praying.”
“As a person with adult children – they’re adults but they’re still my kids – we don’t want to have any accidental victims here,” he said. “The idea that we would in any way be less than thoughtful and prayerful when we’re dealing with the safety of people’s children is an anathema to what we are and what we do.”