SAN ANTONIO - UTSA students are getting the chance to voice their opinion when it comes to the new “campus carry” law that was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2015 and will take effect when they return to college next fall.
The law affects four-year state schools in August 2016 and two-year state schools in 2017.
According to the study conducted by two UTSA political science professors, the majority of the nearly 3,000 students who responded said they’d feel threatened and less safe with guns on campus.
UTSA convened a task force to study the implications of the new law. Several months ago, State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, urged UTSA President Ricardo Romo to consider the population of people on his campus who oppose the campus carry law and come up with “safe” zones where guns would not be allowed. These areas could include classrooms, labs and offices.
Dr. Walter Wilson and Dr. Bryan Gervais released their findings to the public Dec. 8. The survey was also sent to members of the special task force and to the school’s faculty Senate, which expressed concern for campus carry and the academic mission of the university.
They asked what people think of the law and concluded that the majority of students oppose allowing concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons on the UTSA campus, citing safety.
“Students also indicated by a ratio of 12 to 1 that their educational experience will be hindered rather than enhanced if permit-holders are allowed to carry guns in class,” the report stated in its opening paragraph.
The study was conducted by email between Nov. 23-25. All students were invited to participate, the study reported. Of the 28,787 total students at UTSA, 2,822 students responded.
The survey included the following topics:
Feelings of safety if campus carry allowed (with selected premises).
Wilson and Gervais’ survey asked students about the impact of campus carry on feelings of safety in different areas of the campus, including residence halls, cafeterias, libraries, recreation centers, academic offices, labs, classrooms and places where special events are held.
The conclusion: “Sixty percent of respondents indicated that allowing campus carry in libraries, laboratories, and the recreation center would make them feel less safe,” the report said. “Solid majorities also expressed the attitude that allowing campus carry in classrooms, cafeterias, and residence halls would make them feel less safe. A plurality of students felt that allowing campus carry would make them feel less safe in academic offices. Students who indicated that campus carry would make them feel less safe outnumbered those who felt campus carry would make them safer by a ratio of more than 2 to 1 in every campus location examined except for academic offices. In every category,” the study continued, “members of minority groups and women indicated that campus carry would negatively affect their feelings of safety in higher numbers than white or male respondents.”
Impact of campus carry on feelings of classroom safety.
This topic broke down women and men in ethnic groups including Asian, black, Latino, white and other/multi-racial categories.
The conclusion was that less than 50 percent of white students, 43 percent of them male, indicated that campus carry would make them feel less safe in the classroom. Those numbers spike to 66 percent for Latino students, 85 percent for Black students and 74 percent for Asian students. The report said 69 percent of female students indicated they’d feel less safe in the classroom with campus carry.
The same sentiment was true when respondents were asked about how allowing guns on campus would affect their educational experience.
“Forty-eight percent indicated that allowing concealed carry in the classroom would hinder their educational experience, compared to just four percent who felt that such a policy would enhance their educational experience,” the report said.
The study also surveyed students on how they believe the law will make institutions of higher learning look to prospective students.
Fifty-five percent of respondents indicated that the policy would make Texas public universities less attractive, the study said, with 15 percent responding that it would make schools look more attractive. Twenty percent said it would have no impact on the attractiveness of universities. Nine percent had no opinion. Feelings on the issue were divided on racial and gender lines, the study said.
UTSA officials and officials at other campuses across the state are in the middle of figuring out how to best adopt policies and regulations related to their specific campuses. University presidents have the power to adopt policies that best fit their campus, as written into Senate Bill 11 -- the campus carry law.
Martinez Fischer said he wanted to give that power to presidents and helped craft that amendment.
“Whatever policy is drafted for UTSA ought to reflect the desires and priorities of the UTSA campus community,” he said in October after he spoke with Romo to urge him to create exclusion zones. “UTSA being where it is, downtown and (on Loop) 1604, UTSA is a part of our community,” Martinez Fischer said.
While public universities do not have the option of opting out of the law completely, private universities do have the choice. A growing number of those institutions include Rice University in Houston, Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth and Texas Lutheran University in Seguin.
St. Mary's University in San Antonio did the same, with president Thomas Mengler issuing a statement to his campus community in early November. He described the process that school leaders, including representatives from the faculty and student body, took to arrive at the decision to opt out of the campus carry law.
"Following an overwhelming consensus," he wrote, "we have decided to utilize the legislation's opt-out provision and, therefore, maintain the University's current weapons policy, which has been in place for a number of years. Our current policy - of prohibiting the carrying of a handgun while on campus - and our excellent police force has helped maintain a safe and secure campus."
Three other schools, as reported by the Texas Tribune and other media outlets, are likely to follow suit. They include Trinity University and the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Austin College in Sherman and Paul Quinn College in Dallas.
Open carry advocates
Not everyone believes that open carry should be banned everywhere on a college campus.
Open Carry Texas, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and education on the topic of safe and legal carry of firearms in Texas, said that 26 states allow some sort of campus carry.
“Right now and since 1995, concealed handguns are already allowed in campuses, just not in buildings,” said C.J. Grisham, president and founder of Open Carry Texas. “In spite of that, there hasn’t been a single shooting by a licensed holder in 20 years since the law was passed.”
Open Carry Texas believes the misconception about the issue is that there will be shootouts, murders and rapes as a result of allowing guns to be carried on campus.
Grisham said there are approximately 924,000 concealed handguns license holders in the state, which Open Carry Texas figured is 4 percent of the Texas population.
“If we take all the college-age license holders -- between the ages of 21-26 -- that’s about 5 percent of all licensed Texans (about 46,000) at Texas universities if you will assume every college-age license was a student.”
With 208 degree-granting universities in Texas, Grisham concluded that if every college-age licensee was spread equally across all of those universities, there would be about 223 students at every school who could potentially carry a concealed firearm on campus.
Additionally, Grisham believes that people have no need to feel threatened since no one will know whether a student, who must be 21 years of age or older, is carrying or not.
“License-holders are the most law-abiding segment of society, including the law enforcement community. Less than .3 percent of licensees have ever committed any misdemeanor or felony. This includes graffiti, littering, and many other non-violent crimes,” Grisham said.
State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, echoed those remarks.
“Concealed handgun license-holders are the most responsible citizens around,” she said.
Many students attending an October forum at UTSA expressed their support for the law and passionately defended their beliefs that conscionable, honest people who will participate in campus carry are not the ones killing people in mass shooting sprees.
While campus carry takes effect in August 2016, it still does not mean someone can carry openly on campus. That law -- open carry -- will take effect on Jan. 1 and applies only to certain locations. Carrying a gun on campus must be in a concealed manner and the holder must be 21 and have a concealed handgun license.
Will the survey make a difference?
What impact, if any, will the survey make on the task force, which is crafting recommendations on how to follow the law?
Wilson said he hopes that administrators follow common sense and their own previous position against campus carry, as well as student opinion, when considering their policies.
“We believe that establishing exclusion zones in all formal research, creative, and teaching areas of campus, including classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and faculty offices, will help to mitigate the negative impact of SB11 on feelings of safety on campus and the academic mission of the university, while conforming to the letter of the law,” Wilson said. “We also hope that the Texas state Legislature will reconsider this unwise legislation given the serious damage it may do to the competitiveness of Texas’ public universities.”
The task force that UTSA president Romo created will deliver its recommendations to the university community this week. Meetings are scheduled for Dec. 9 at the UTSA Main and Downtown campuses. In January, the university will present its campus plan to the UT system for review, with the board of regents to approve campus carry plans in February.
*Info-graphic source: Dr. Walter Wilson, associate professor of political science, & Dr. Bryan Gervais, assistant professor of political science, UTSA