New Texas gun law denies university rights

Texas legislators voted in 2015 to require public universities to allow concealed guns on campus and in classrooms. While the law does not take effect until Aug. 1, the decision received ardent reactions from both supporters and opponents. Just last week, Fritz Steiner, dean of the Texas School of Architecture, announced that he would be leaving the university due to the implementation of the law. The legislation does not allow public universities the choice of whether or not to follow this rule; however, an institution deserves the right to decide to allow guns.

Supporters of “campus carry” laws cite constitutional rights and self-defense as key reasons to allow the concealed possession of a firearm. They use the possibility of a mass shooting as reasoning for allowing students to carry a firearm, but the argument has little merit in a real-life situation. Last summer, shortly after the vote for this new Texas law, the University of Texas Chancellor William McRaven, a former Navy SEAL, explained that minimally trained gun owners— most permit holders— would not fare well in an adrenaline-fueled, high-stakes situation. Some might even argue that an inexperienced civilian could unintentionally make the situation worse. Regardless, each school knows what is best for its student body and its campus environment, so it is something a university’s administration — not the state government — is best suited to decide.

In regard to exercising Second Amendment rights, the Texas campus carry law might seem like a win. However, it is incorrect to assume that this right can or should be guaranteed at a school. As with students’ limited freedom of speech, the right to carry a gun should be subject to the administration’s authority. In the outcome of the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case, the Supreme Court ruled that the students’ freedom of speech can be removed by school officials in an effort to keep order. The same mindset should be applied to the Second Amendment. Whether it is a high school or a university, an educational institution has a duty to protect students and keep order among them. If it considers a weapons ban the correct way to do so, it has a duty to enforce one.

California took the approach opposite from Texas: following the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law banning concealed guns from college campuses. Regardless of whether a person has legally obtained the gun, the only exceptions to the law are if the carrier is retired from law enforcement or has permission from the university. Even though the California regulation also applies to private universities — unlike the Texas law — it allows some institutional freedom. Texas legislators did not give state universities the choice to lift the ban, they forced them to. On the contrary, California grants its schools the right to decide certain exceptions. Such a decision sets a positive precedent, although institutions do not have full freedom.

The Texas law paved the way for private universities to lift their bans on guns, but not one has even announced plans to do so. Additionally, before the 2015 California legislation, USC did not allow firearms on campus. These decisions imply that many college s— easily more than just those mentioned — are not comfortable with allowing any or all students to carry guns. With this in mind, it is only fair to give universities a choice in this matter, instead of simply forcing them to eliminate regulations.