Unless you’ve been living under a rock outside of the JPL without access to Internet (very likely, because Air Rowdy only works about 10% of the time), you have at least heard of “campus carry”. In early October, a UT Austin professor resigned from their post over it, in tradition of “keeping it weird” UT Austin students openly carried dildos around campus to protest it, campus carry was talked about heavily at the Democratic National Debate, and our very own Student Government Association held two open forums for students in October. The issue of campus carry comes up at a time that our nation is experiencing an influx of mass shootings on college campuses. Since the tragic events at Columbine in 1999, there have been over thirty-one school shootings in the United States. Even on our own campus on October 26th, a UTSA student was robbed at gunpoint in lot BR1. Just down the road from us the next day, the University of Incarnate Word went on temporary lock-down after an alleged gunman was spotted walking near campus with two rifles. Some people are calling for complete gun reform and completely against campus carry, others are up in arms over our right to bear arms and are pro-campus carry, and the majority of people are somewhere in the middle and have a lot of questions, including myself.
On May 31st, the Texas Legislature passed the campus carry bill 98-47, and on June 13th Governor Abbott signed the bill in the most Greg Abbott way possible - at a gun range. The passing of the bill allows licensed concealed handgun holders to carry handguns on public college campuses (meaning private universities like Baylor and SMU aren’t required to uphold this law), and would go into effect at four year institutions on August 1st, 2016 and a year later. Since you have to be twenty-one years old to attain a concealed handgun license, most college students wouldn’t even be able to carry a concealed firearm on campus. In fact, as it currently stands on 600-800 people between students, faculty, and staff would qualify to even carry a concealed weapon at UTSA. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Okay, most students wont be able to carry a gun anyways, why is this a big deal? It’s a law now, why are students and faculty just now protesting it? Why is this even a discussion?”, but the bill also had one very special caveat. Although college presidents won't be able to make our whole campus a gun-free zone, they are allowed to designate gun-free zones throughout campus. Since college presidents have pressure to make decisions that will make the media, alumni, faculty and students happy, we very well as a community have the power to decide exactly how “gun-free” we want out campus to be, which is where the debate and confusion lies.
Certain areas of campus like health services, childcare facilities, athletic complexes and competitions, intramurals games, the recreation center, laboratories, judicial affairs, financial aid, advising offices, veteran certification centers, and some classrooms are automatically gun-free zones via the law. While campus carry was being pushed through the Texas legislative system, so was open carry. This was a huge feat for Texas gun owners who have only been restricted to concealed carry since 1996. The difference between open carry and concealed carry is that in open carry, residents who are licensed to carry (the term “concealed handgun licensee” will soon be extinct) can carry their weapon on a hip or shoulder holster, and it can be visible for the whole world to see. However, concealed carry requires concealed handgun license holders to keep their weapon hidden from plain sight on their person or their vehicles. I was the only university student invited to attend the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce meeting on Thursday, October 22nd. Myself and about 50 business owners in San Antonio got a crash course on what open carry is, and what legal implications it holds for businesses. The main thing we learned is that business owners have the power and the right to decide if they are going to allow open carry in their businesses. However, businesses that don’t have this luxury are public park systems, places where government meetings are held, government buildings, daycares, nursing home facilities, at a nonfirearm-related school, facilities that host college or professional athletic events, and hospitals. If they are gong to restrict open carry, they are required to post signage on the entrance of their property or establishment stating their policy.
In case you’re wondering how the effects on businesses are going to effect you, take into account these few tidbits of information: one in eight workers work in a tourism related business in San Antonio (aka 12.5% of the cities population, or 176, 125 workers), $348 million in taxes and revenue went to government agencies from tourism, and the annual economic impact of the tourism industry in 2013 was $13.1 billion, a 66% increase from 2003’s $8.1 billion.
John Clamp, the executive director of the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association summed it up best when he was quoted in the “Rivard Report”, “Visitor spending impacts virtually every corner of the local economy – sports, food service, transportation, cultural events, healthcare and much more. Many of the amenities and attractions that San Antonians enjoy on a daily basis are available to them only because these attractions are also supported by millions of visitors.” The main concern for San Antonio business owners is how this is going to effect the tourism industry here. This isn’t an invalid concern either; if qualified professors are willing to pack up their whole lives and leave their positions at universities over campus carry on a college campus, why would it be ridiculous to assume a mother planning a vacation for her family would not want to vacation in San Antonio due to open carry? To people who didn’t grow up around guns, the sight of them makes them uneasy and feel unsafe - so why would they put themselves in the position to feel that way? For every mother who doesn’t plan that family vacation, or wife who doesn’t book that romantic getaway, that means less revenue for our beloved Spurs, UTSA, Alamodome, the museum system, Fiesta, the Majestic, Riverwalk (what would we do on the first Friday of every month without the bars downtown?), and even jobs when we graduate. Ways to combat this (that don’t necessarily involve every eligible business banning open-carry on it’s premises) are to promote Texas and San Antonio as safe and family friendly environment through our marketing campaigns and branding and as a community and state to promote gun safety so that visitors know our residents are responsible gun owners. Suzanna Hupp, a survivor of a 1991 mass shooting in Texas that left 24 people dead (including her parents) recently went on record with Fox News analyst, Megyn Kelly, ““If guns are the problem, somebody needs to explain to me why we don’t see these mass shootings at place where there are thousands– at least hundreds of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens. I always think of the dreaded gun show. We don’t see mass shootings at dreaded gun shows. We don’t see mass shootings at NRA conventions. We see mass shootings at places where we have made guns illegal; where people can’t protect themselves.”
When Her Campus took a social media poll of UTSA students, the responses were spilt in the three ways I mentioned above. Karina Castillo (@kastillo1594) had a great pro-campus carry point; “Less guns won’t make it anymore safe than more guns. I’d rather protect myself than be defenseless.” Eliza Parker (@elizaflyza) summed up the concerns that many have with campus carry, “It scares the shit out of me. We have a police system implemented here, what more protection do we need? I would feel less safe with more guns on campus regardless of what the intention is. You may not touch your gun, and have it “just in case,” but by bringing it to school, you risk someone else with bad intentions getting their hands on it. It is unnecessary, and I think rather backwards. More guns aren’t going to make our campus any more safe.” Others, (myself included) shared questions vs. vehement responses. Because of this, I went to the Student Government Campus Carry Forum looking for answers, and to see how my fellow Roadrunners felt about the issue., and to gain insight.
When I walked into the meeting a few minutes late, it was well underway and the discussion was already heated. The representatives from the task force committee present were Kevin Price (Dean of Students), Officer Dan Pena (Assistant Police Chief), Jefferey Schidler (SGA Chief of Staff), William Trynosky (SGA Student Affairs Co-Chair), Marcus Thomas (SGA Student Senator), and Christian Kenney (SGA Vice President) led the forum as moderator. One professor in the front row was passionately presenting the case against guns in classrooms, faculty offices, and on campus in general. This followed by a rebuttal from an equally passionate licensed concealed handgun carrier, who asked the task force how freely those with weapons would be able to move about the campus. For almost two hours a similar exchange continued as students asked questions, some could be answered, and some were not. Some questions that had definitive answers were:
Q1: If I’m a student and I see somebody with a gun, what should I do?
A1: Call Campus Police
Q2: Will tuition go up to accommodate the effect concealed carry will have on UTSA’s insurance premiums?
A2: Tuition will not go up (it’s actually a part of the legislation that universities cant charge students higher rates due to concealed carry)
Q3: Will this affect UTSA’s Tier One campaign?
A3: It is gong to affect us, but the scope and impact cannot yet be determined.
(The logic behind this is that since the majority of higher education faculty tend to be more liberal, and pro-gun control, the law will deter them from taking positions at UTSA vs. schools in states without open carry and campus carry)
Other questions, such as “Will lockers be provided to carriers in between open and gun-free zones?” “Will there be heightened security in gun-free zones to combat the threat of students being defenseless against an armed shooter?”, “Do students have a say about what locations they do/don’t want to be gun free?”, “Will something similar to alcohol edu be implemented to educate incoming students about gun safety?, ”Will students living in on-campus housing be allowed to have dorms?”, “Will concealed carry be allowed at UTSA sporting events?”, and my question, “How are we going to enforce gun free zones on campus if we cant even enforce a smoke-free campus?”- Were answered with “it’s still under review.” I think myself, and everyone who left that forum left with even more questions and concerns than what we came with. It had nothing to do with the task force being unknowledgeable, and everything to do with the fact that this is a new law, and therefore has a lot of unclear or unspecific wording. One thing that was really emphasized when I attended the Chamber of Commerce forum on open carry was that the verbiage of these laws, and some of their statues are likely to evolve and change over time. The concealed carry law passed in the mid-nineties underwent three major overhauls in less than 20 years before it was perfected.
After the forum, I met Dr. Walter Wilson, an associate political science professor, who was passing out flyers for a peaceful protest that was being held at the Rowdy Statue the next day. I met up with him before the peaceful protest to gain more insight into how faculty felt about this new transition. Dr. Wilson expressed that his main concern was not a “crazy active shooter”, but the fact that “accidents can happen, and reasonable people can misperceive situations and end up using a weapon in the wrong way for the right reason.” He further expressed his concern by saying, “I don’t want to have to assume they’re responsible gun owners. There’s no reason to invite that into our offices. Safety, security, and lack of intimidation are a right. Guns are a privilege.” It seems many of the faculty on campus are upset that their offices are not currently planning on being gun free zones, and one professor brought up the point during the forum that its not uncommon for students to be stressed during finals over their grades and faculty have even received death threats before- what’s going to stop them from following through? (Honestly, I can see both sides to this. If faculty offices are approved for concealed carry, professors have a way of defending themselves vs. not being able to defend themselves if it was a gun free-zone, but I digress) I think it’s also interesting to note that our university president is highly against campus carry. In an interview with the Paisano back in 2013, Dr. Romo argued, “Only a very experienced gun holder can stop a shooter without furthering damage - experience that many students do not have…It’s not The Lone Ranger coming to the rescue.” When I asked Dr. Wilson if there was anything that he really felt UTSA students to know, it’s that “the law directs Dr. Romo to consult with them, and if they are not happy, they can use UTSA channels, write letters, and protest.”
Regardless of how you feel about campus carry, it is very real, and it will be going into effect next fall. The odds of the legislature repealing the bill are zero to none, and by November 1st our Task Force will have the first proposal turned into Dr. Romo. One thing I really learned throughout this whole process is that Texas universities are required by the law to consult with students, and UTSA specifically is very committed to this. The Student Government Association, the Task Force, and even Dr.Romo are open to listening to your concerns, recommendations, and questions. Dr. Wilson reminded me that the “strongest voice will win”, so whether you are for more freedom for concealed handgun carriers, or are a supporter of a more gun-free campus, let your voice be heard! The easiest way to do this is stay informed about what’s going on in your state and community, relaying how you feel in a peaceful and articulate manner, and contacting the Task Force and SGA here: firstname.lastname@example.org. We, as students of the university, have the power and the legal right to help shape the campus policy that will affect UTSA students for generations.
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