By Claire Wallace
On Aug. 1, 2016, UT Tyler and many other four-year universities across the state allowed licensed handgun carriers to bring their concealed handguns on campuses–exactly 50 years after the University of Texas at Austin’s tower massacre. Since then, Texas has experienced four mass shootings and enacted looser gun laws, allowing handguns in places of worship, foster homes, K-12 campuses, and condoning open carry for 48 hours after a natural disaster. These new laws have sparked gun control advocates to ask Texas officials to “do something” and a closer look at gun laws, including “campus carry”, in Texas.
“I believe that anyone who has a license to carry should be able to carry on campus,” said Jacob Dunn, a junior history student. “I firmly believe that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If you are licensed to carry and go through all the background checks and the laws to be able to carry, you should be able to carry here as well.”
To Dunn, having an active shooter on campus is a viable fear, and that after the recent mass shootings in Texas, it makes him feel “it could be anywhere.”
“That’s why I think that if you’ve already been given the right by the State of Texas to defend yourself, then you should be able to defend yourself,” Dunn said.
The concealed carry policy on campus reflects the state’s law: to carry on campus, a person must be 21 years or older and have a license granted by the state after completing a gun safety and training course, and all handguns must be in a holster that covers the trigger. Only concealed carry is allowed, and any incident where a handgun is displayed either accidentally or on purpose can result in either a reprimand or suspension by a campus police officer. Handguns are not allowed in the counseling center, the UT Tyler health clinic, athletic events, hearing rooms for student adjudication, labs, or around large groups of children under 18, such as when schools visit campus. These statutes were put in place to “ensure the safety and security of the entire campus.”
But UT Tyler and the city itself has had issues with gun violence in the years since campus carry was passed. Between 2016 and 2017, a student known as the “Asian Nazi” had more than 20 encounters with the UT Tyler police and 22 behavioral complaints from faculty and staff for threatening racial violence. The Asian Nazi was arrested in May of this year for the illegal purchase of three guns with falsified records on his citizenship in the United States. The campus experienced a false campus shooter alert in 2017 that caused more than 40 police officers to respond. In April of this year, there was an incident of a domestic violence assault with a handgun in UT Tyler's off-campus housing, committed by a non-student, JaQuavion Slaton. Slaton fled the scene was later shot and killed in an armed altercation in June with the Dallas police. On Sept. 2, a UT Tyler criminal-justice student was arrested after he threatened to shoot multiple people at the Troup HWY Walmart.
“I don’t necessarily think that a student should feel that they should come here with a concealed handgun, but I believe there should be officials on campus, due to the past history of school shootings, that should be armed for any kind of code red situation,” Tanner Emery, a junior finance major said. “I think there should be someone to protect us from that.” Emery says that having students armed on campus makes him feel “nervous,” though he isn’t against having a concealed carry. He stresses that he doesn’t feel as though he needs to carry, but he understands why people would want to conceal carry, especially after the mass shooting in El Paso that killed 22 people.
In 2018, Three professors from UT Austin challenged the campus carry law because they believe having guns in the classroom would have a “chilling effect” on free speech because students and teachers would be afraid to voice their opinion in case someone became violent. The law, though, was upheld unanimously by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Senior Lecturer in history and political science James Newsom admits that the rules are on campus carry are not perfect, he points out that the campus carry policy has been in place for two years, and it hasn’t changed “the dynamic in the classroom.”
“We still engage in discourse,” Newsome said. “Students don’t agree with me, I don’t agree with students. That was the fear before the laws were put in place, that the classroom dynamic would fundamentally change because the instructor would be afraid of students with a gun and that just simply hasn’t been an issue.”
Other students, like senior Elizabeth Boshers, wish there was a better way to legislate on who should be allowed to conceal carry. During the 2017 false active shooter alert, Bosher says a classmate helped keep the class calm by announcing she had a concealed carry and would “do [her] best to stop” the shooter if the need arose. To Bosher, this made her feel safer, but only because the classmate acted in a “good way.” She says some students simply don’t have the right temperament to conceal carry on campus and could be a danger to others.
“In general, I would be against campus carry, because I feel in a situation like that, who you are makes a big difference, and they can’t really legislate for that,” Bosher said. “They can’t be like, ‘if you’re chill, you can have a gun, but if not, no gun.’”
Newsom says that while he is a supporter of having guns on campus, he “would be the first one to turn in a student who doesn’t conceal and carry properly.” He emphasizes that those who concealed carry are lawful citizens and shouldn’t be feared.
“People who shouldn’t carry are going to carry whether you have a law saying they can or can’t,” Newsom said. “By definition, they are lawbreakers or rule breakers, and they're going to carry anyway.”
Newsom and Dunn both believe in the right to protect yourself, no matter where you are. But for many other students and Texans, in light of recent shootings, have trouble deciding where they stand on issues like campus carry.
“Some people like to argue that you’re much safer if everyone carried a handgun,” Emery said. “There’s also some people that say no concealed handguns, and to let the professionals take care of it. It’s a tough opinion to give. I wish I knew the answers on that.”