As the University of Texas at Austin gears up to implement SB 11, or what is commonly known as “campus carry,” it finds itself at the crux of the passionate debate about gun policies that is concerning many Americans.
SB 11 faces backlash from a number of professors and students who reject the presence of guns in classrooms; while many legislators and gun rights supporters champion the new law and its potential to protect students and prevent shootings.
Ten months ago, the UT community started an online petition with over 8,000 signatures to ask Governor Greg Abbott to repeal SB 11, and now three UT Austin professors are suing the University of Texas at Austin and the state of Texas itself and asking a federal judge to stop the legislation from going into effect before the first day of classes in late August.
Historically, however, UT Austin policy has allowed license holders to carry concealed handguns on campus grounds (though not in buildings) for 20 years. Other states also already have laws in place or in the works that are similar to Texas SB 11.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin now allow any individual on a public college or university campus to carry a concealed handgun.
Nevada, Montana, and Florida have recently drafted their own “campus carry” laws in the past couple years, though they haven’t been worked on in over a year. The Montana bill is predicted to die in committee, while the Florida bill has already died.
The ideological debate between campus carry supporters and opponents remains contentious, with students rallying around both sides of the argument.
Students for Concealed Carry is an organization that supports SB 11 and similar bills. They claim that concealed carry improves students’ self-defense on campus and encourages all people on campus to be prepared for attacks.
On the other hand, Students for Gun Free Schools is an organization that opposes campus carry laws. They claim allowing concealed carry on campuses will create additional risks, allow potential school shooters to go unnoticed, and may not even make a difference in preventing violence.
Both of these organizations represent the common arguments for either side of the debate.
In 2010, a student from Colorado State University published a report outlining the debate surrounding concealed carry policies on public campuses and legislative efforts to reduce mass shootings on campus. In an attempt to find the best possible solution to reduce gun violence, the student’s research only showed that the choice between “campus carry” and “gun free” looked like it would remain contentious for a while. Her conclusion, however, was that both sides had a common goal: to keep students safe on campus.
Some lawmakers have ventured in the opposite direction of the eight state legislatures mentioned above. California and Maryland are two of the most recent states to prohibit handguns on campus all together.
California SB 707 prohibits the possession on any school campus, private or public, unless they have written consent from the school or are a peace officer meeting certain requirements.
Maryland HB 1002, which is now being worked on in the Senate, prohibits any individual from carrying a firearm on public institutions of higher education unless the individual is a law enforcement officer. These bills are an example of a “gun free” response to campus shootings.
In the past few years since legislators have started working on these bills, college shootings have continued to plague campuses.
In 2014, a gunman murdered six people in Isla Vista, California a small community near the University of Santa Barbara. In 2015, another ten people were murdered by a gunman at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. And in June of 2016, two were killed by another gunman at the University of California in Los Angeles.
Some college campuses will soon be seeing policy changes on their campuses to combat tragedy. California SB 707 was signed into law October of 2015, Texas SB 11 goes into effect in August of 2016, and Tennessee SB 2376 went into effect July 1, 2016.
While the debate about whether to loosen or tighten gun restrictions remains, it is apparent that campuses and politicians alike are searching for some sort of solution to end mass shootings.
Veronica Tien is a student at the University of Texas double-majoring in American Studies and Economics and a current intern with Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at email@example.com or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.