Students and faculty could be allowed to carry guns on campus in administrative buildings, dormitories and classrooms if Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) signs a new campus carry bill recently approved by the Texas Legislature. This bill would set a dangerous precedent in diverting millions of dollars away from academics and toward increased campus security and insurance costs. And as our state continues to cut funds for higher education, our campuses cannot afford the costs campus carry legislation would impose on our communities.
Young people across the country have mobilized against 15 proposed campus carry bills this year, defeating most of these attempts from gun industry lobbyists and their allies. Now, the fight has come to Texas. On May 31, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 11, known as the campus carry bill. The final version of the bill provides a complete opt-out provision for private universities and a partial opt-out for public universities. The bill was sent to the governor, who must either sign or veto it by June 21. The presidents of public universities, such as the University of Texas at Austin, will be allowed to implement gun-free zones around campus, but cannot effectively ban guns across the entire campus. Venues where collegiate sporting events take place are exempt, but dorms are not. This partial opt-out provision is meant to allow presidents, in collaboration with students and the regents, to exempt certain medical buildings, labs and childcare facilities on their campuses.
Stakeholders agree that guns do not make college campuses safer. Guns alter the atmosphere of a university. The stresses of college life—whether academic, social or personal—do not need to be supplemented with firearms. Students, graduate student teaching assistants, professors, resident assistants, police departments and administrators have all voiced their concerns about dealing with students carrying guns on campus.
Furthermore, campus carry legislation will not stop the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. The idea that guns will curb campus sexual assaults is a myth that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how these assaults occur on campuses. Attackers generally do not jump out from behind a bush and grab young women walking home from the library. In actuality, these assaulters are someone the victim knows. About 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the survivor. Students are more likely to be at risk when they are around someone they know and trust. Guns are of little use in those situations.
Student government presidents from across Texas signed a letter asking for a better opt-out amendment for public universities. They contended that, as elected to represent their student populations, they deserved a voice in what happens on their individual campuses. The Texas Legislature has ignored the voices of student leaders who oppose the presence of guns on their campuses.
Moving forward, each campus will need to develop a policy that fits the needs of its students. Chancellors, presidents, regents and student leaders will need to work together to determine what works best for their students. Each college should have the ability to determine the safest way to implement this policy—a policy they did not want in the first place—on their campuses. Now is the time for students, faculty and staff to raise their voices on the application of this dangerous legislation so that when we implement gun-free campus measures, students’ voices will be at the forefront of the conversation.
Jordan Elizabeth Pahl is a student at the University of Texas at Austin and a founding member of UT Students Against Guns on Campus.