Cara SantucciNews Editor
Nidhi GotgiManaging Editor
Editor’s note: This story has been updated since its original publication.
Recommendations for concealed handguns need Regents’ approval
After months of behind the scenes work by a special committee, President ad interim Hobson Wildenthal has released UTD’s recommendations for the implementation of Senate Bill 11, a law allowing the concealed carry of handguns on campus.
Wildenthal, who sent the recommendations to UT System Chancellor William McRaven on April 8, made the public announcement on April 11.
Last year, the Texas Legislature passed SB 11, a law that allows concealed handgun license holders, who have to be age 21 or older unless they are military veterans, to carry their weapons on public university campuses starting Aug. 1.
Although no public institution within the state can opt out of allowing CHL holders to bring their concealed firearms onto school grounds, each public university president had the option to recommend to their governing board policies on how the law should be carried out at their respective schools, including suggesting exclusion zones where CHL holders can not bring their weapons.
To do this, Wildenthal appointed a working group headed by criminology professor Alex Piquero to research the topic and discuss where exclusion zones should be on campus.
In the recommendation, the group emphasized CHL holders must have their weapons concealed at all times, have direct control over their gun anytime it is on them, carry their firearms in an adhesive holster that covers the trigger and trigger guard area and properly store their guns when they are not on them.
Along with areas where firearms are already prohibited by state law, including sporting events, patient care facilities and hearing facilities for disciplinary action, UTD’s recommended exclusion zones are Callier Center-Dallas, Callier Center-Richardson, the Center for Brain Health, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory, the Bioengineering and Sciences Building and all dorms on campus.
Licensed CHL holders who live in on-campus apartments will be allowed to keep their weapons there, so long as they are properly stored.
The potential exclusion zones did not include areas such as classrooms and professors’ offices, which have been points of contention at other universities implementing SB 11.
Piquero said the working group had a long and deliberative process about which exclusion zones would be included.
“We talked extensively in our internal working group about all the issues and the advantages and disadvantages of the various places around campus, but we wanted to also seek to minimize disruption while at the same time doing what we can do to secure safety and at the same time ensuring that we uphold what Senate Bill 11 says that we have to do,” he said. “And if you read the senate bill in its entirety and very closely, you will notice that the legislature put language in there basically saying that we cannot exclude parts of the campus where students have to go about their business of being students and it’s very clear.”
The recommendation states multiple justifications for the possible exclusion zones, from child care and medical facilities in the Callier Centers and Center for Brain Health to the storage of sensitive materials in NSERL and BSB. Additionally, the recommendation stated that since dorms in the residence halls are occupied by students who are almost exclusively between the ages of 17 to 19, those areas, along with adjoining dining halls, will be potentially excluded as well.
Under SB11, these exclusion zones must be designated by signs letting CHL holders know they cannot enter these areas with their weapon on them.
Although areas housing young children, like the daycare facility in the Student Union, are automatically exempted from campus carry, Piquero said the SU and other buildings with similar areas are not considered for exclusion automatically. Rather, those specific places and rooms designated to house children will be excluded from campus carry.
“Where there are places where children who are under age …. those areas will be excluded,” he said. “If in fact we have a particular facility or area on campus in which that falls under that requirement, then there will be signage placed in the appropriate spot.”
Although CHL holders are expected to properly store their weapons in another secure area before entering an exclusion zone, the recommendation stated the university will not be providing any lockers or storage facilities to accommodate that action. Piquero pointed out SB11 does not require universities to provide those services.
“Most of the other plans that I’ve seen, particularly UT Austin, the campuses are not going to provide that storage,” he said.
When asked if a CHL holder with their weapon on them had to get into an exclusion zone, Piquero confirmed they would have to store the weapon out of sight in their locked car or residence before entering.
Going forward, the recommendations have to be approved by the Board of Regents to be finalized. The Board of Regents will have the ability to amend either part of or the whole policy by a two-thirds vote. If the Regents don’t make any amendments within 90 days of receiving the recommendations, then the recommended guidelines and rules will be considered final.
In between now and the August start date, Piquero will be heading an implementation working group from across the UTD community, which he is collaborating with Wildenthal to put together. The group will be working with other institutions across the state to see how they are going about the process of handling concealed campus carry.
“We will be discussing signage, because we have to follow certain requirements of the law in terms of how the signs look and where they are posted, we will be changing material in the handbooks to reflect the new policy,” he said. “We will also be considering what kinds of education or symposium or meetings we’ll have with the campus community to discuss the law and the implementation of the law, as well as we have to prepare a report to the legislature every even year about how we’ve implemented the law and what we’ve learned in respect to implementation.”
Since discussions on implementation have not officially started yet, Piquero said costs and specific details about how UTD’s campus carry policy will be enforced have not been finalized yet.
Outgoing SG president Caitlynn Fortner, who took part in the campus carry working group, expressed satisfaction with how the recommendations were put together.
“I think the conversation in the committee was constructive and professional and I think the conversation is ongoing, so we’re still looking to hear what people think about the issue,” she said. “But overall I’m happy with how the process went.”
-Additional reporting by Cara Santucci