Carrying concealed handguns on college campuses will now be legal in Texas. Senate Bill 11 and House Bill 937 were passed, and later signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on Jun. 13, 2015.
“The legislature has spoken, and said it will be legal,” said Chief Randy Melton, Director of campus police at TJC.
The law will allow students and faculty to carry concealed (hidden) handguns with them on campus. Now that the law has been made official, college police and administrators for higher learning facilities have begun working on policies to establish proper use on campus, and to determine whether specific areas will be considered gun-free. The law will takes affect in Sep. 1, 2015, and become effective for four-year universities in Aug. 2016, and community colleges August 2017.
“We are taking a wait and see approach to see what happens in the universities,” said Melton. “We think that’s a good thing that the pressure is off of us, because we thought we were going to have to make policy very quick. By the time it’s legal here, there’ll already be a year experience with universities”.
Two whole years will take place before students and faculty can carry at TJC, until then the campus police and administrators will watch and weigh what happens at other campuses.
Chief Melton adds that within a year, any situations or issues could result in lawsuits from both perspectives, those in support of gun laws, and those against. The next Texas legislative session will be on Jan. 10, 2017, a few months before community colleges must take on the law and giving legislatures an opportunity to fine tune if necessary.
“It’s a new dynamic to a college campus” Melton said. “Once the policy comes in affect there’s going to be a learning curve, which means the administrators will train professors and staff members to make them aware of the do’s and don’ts, legal issues, and the same thing with campus police as far as training to familiarize with the situations that may or may not occur”.
Dr. Tom Johnson, the Executive Director of Campus Police and Director of the Law Enforcement Academy said “We will study the stature closely and develop sound policies so that we follow both the spirit and letter of the new law at our college”.
Joanna Stone, a TJC medical student, believes there are those who “behave like crazy people even without a gun”, and the concealed gun laws on campus are not something she would approve.
“It makes me weary, just because I feel like there are a whole lot of students who are responsible, but I also know there are a lot who might get trigger-happy, and accidentally pull when they shouldn’t” said student Lizzie Reedy.
As a pro she said, “if there happened to be a big problem where someone came into a class with a gun it would be a little easier to defend” but as a con “I definitely think students shouldn’t just be brandishing their weapons and showing it to other students, I think it’s just calling for trouble” said Reedy.
Dr. Johnson advises students and faculty that in the future they should “read and understand the statute completely and abide by the law. It is critical that individuals do not make assumptions or rely on hearsay regarding the new law”.
Although safety measures and training will take place, campus police have concerns with knowing who has a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) and who doesn’t.
“It’s not like they’re going to come in and check in with us, and say ‘I have a CHL and I’m a student’ that’s not the way the law was framed,” said Melton. “We’re not going to know. Some of our concerns is, if we get a call in a classroom, we respond and say a disturbance, how can I know the good guys from the bad guys?”
In order to obtain a CHL, an individual must be at least 21 years old. The majority of TJC dorm students are the traditional ages of 18-20. However, storing weapons in the dorms, or bringing a gun with you to work out at the Ornelas Rec Center, will all be part of future issues for the policemen.
Until August 2017, TJC campus police and administrators will watch and see how the law affects fellow Texas colleges.