The Campus Carry debate is picking up steam at TCU, as the university faces a choice of whether to opt-in or opt-out of the new Texas law.

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Senate Bill 11’s journey through the Texas legislature ended with Governor Greg Abbott’s signature on June 13, but its impact at TCU is just beginning.

The new law, known as Campus Carry, states:

“A license holder may carry a concealed handgun on or about the license holder’s person while the license holder is on the campus of an institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education in this state.”

Public universities are required to adhere to the law and must set up “rules, regulations and provisions regarding the carrying of concealed handguns on the campus of the institution,” according to the legislation.

However, the law allows private universities to “opt out” of its requirements after consultations with students, staff and faculty before it takes effect on Aug. 1, 2016.

According to the TCU student handbook, the “use, storage or possession of weapons or dangerous devices” is currently prohibited on campus.

Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner stated on June 5 that their weapons-free policy “remains in full force and is not affected by this legislation.” Also prior to June 13, Rice University President David Leebron said he expects to maintain a weapons-free policy after faculty, staff and student consultations. But the question remains: What will TCU do?

“The most important thing for sure is that [students] have a voice in this decision,” said Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs Kathy Cavins-Tull. “And they should work hard to educate themselves about that [decision].”

As the TCU Forensics debate team prepares for a debate Thursday at 4 p.m. in the BLUU Ballroom, and the university gears up for a campus-wide discussion, here’s what you need to know about Campus Carry:

Background on the bill

Jan. 28 wasn’t the first time Sen. Brian Birdwell introduced a Campus Carry bill.

According to Texas Legislature Online, the bill’s author had filed a similar bill “relating to the carrying of concealed handguns on the campus of and certain other locations associated with institutions of higher education” in January 2013.

However, despite referral to the Committee on Criminal Justice, Senate Bill 182 never made it to a vote.

Unlike its predecessor, Senate Bill 11 was approved by the Texas legislature on May 31. After a 98-47 approval vote by the House, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 13. 

An email sent by Chancellor Victor Boschini on June 3 said, “TCU will adhere to the requirements of any final legislation to discuss the opt-out option with our campus community in a manner aligned with our university’s mission, vision and culture.”

He also stated TCU’s current no-weapons policy would remain in effect throughout the potential consultation process the bill specified.

The upcoming debate on Thursday and campus-wide discussion is part of that process, Chancellor’s Intern Mike Marshall said. He said he’s been watching the Campus Carry process unfold in Texas since March and April 2013.

“We aren’t entering into this under any sort of pretenses,” Marshall said. “We are trying to figure out what’s going to be in the best interest of this campus.”

Ammunition on both sides

“We have to really be smart about  thinking about both sides of this issue,” Cavins-Tull said. “This is one of those issues where it seems like people are polarized on.”

She said there are people who are firm about their right to carry a concealed handgun and believe the Second Amendment grants them that right. They feel that having completed the process to get a concealed handgun license has made them more responsible, she said.

Some also feel that if something were to happen on campus, they would be able to help protect others through their access to a handgun, Cavins-Tull said.

On the other side, there are those who respect the right to carry, but think that a college environment isn’t the right place for it, she said. Cavins-Tull cited issues of mental health, suicide, emotional development, alcohol and drugs as contributing factors.

“Sometimes behavior associated with this age group can be a little impulsive,” she said. “And so adding a weapon to that may or may not be very prudent.”

It’s important to avoid a rush to judgment or a quick decision when it comes to Campus Carry, said Matt Miller, senior political science major and Chief of Staff to Student Body President Maddie Reddick.

“I think it’s important that people understand that it’s not just a matter of what the students want, it’s also what faculty and administration want,” Miller said, “as well as whether it’s a safety issue or a personal issue.”

Political science professor Jim Riddlesperger said he thinks the law would have a negative effect on the classroom environment and a “chilling effect” on classroom conversation.

He said students need to feel comfortable being able to express opposing ideas on subjects in the classroom, and faculty need to be able to have hard conversations with students without fear of a gun involved.

“I just think this may be an instance where the cure is worse than the disease,” Riddlesperger said.

Riddlesperger said he understands the other side of the issue, citing the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 as examples where if the right person had had a gun at the right time, it could have made a big difference.

It’s a competition between two good arguments, he said.

“The question is: are you more likely to get to that ‘good’ by having fewer guns on campus or having more guns on campus?” Riddlesperger said.

What’s Next

Cavins-Tull said students should educate themselves by reading the legislation, coming to the debate and using their voices “to talk about what kind of culture they want on our campus.”

After Thursday’s debate, there will be two open forums for students to ask questions and give input about the upcoming decision, Miller said.

The first will take place on Sept. 23 at 12 p.m. in Smith 104B and another on Sept. 29 at 12 p.m. in the Beck-Geren room in the BLUU.

“TCU as a whole is providing a lot of opportunities for students to get involved in the conversation, so my hope is that students take advantage of the opportunity,” Miller said, “because I think it’s special that we go to a school that’s willing to open up a broad discussion about such a broad issue.”

Another way for students to share their opinions is to send an email via campuscarry@tcu.edu and to communicate through their representatives in the Student Government Association, Cavins-Tull said.

SGA, Faculty Senate, Staff Assembly, and Graduate Student Senate will take input, discuss Campus Carry and make formal resolutions of recommendation to the Chancellor by the end of October, she said.

The Chancellor will then make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees, who will vote during their next meeting in November.

“I want the safest, healthiest campus for our students, faculty and staff,” Cavins-Tull said.

“I want our environment to be an environment where we have conversation with students that helps them grow and develop. Sometimes those conversations can be tough, but they’re necessary.”