Texas AG Ken Paxton: Public Universities Cannot Ban Guns in Dorms

AP File Photo/Eric Gay

Texas public universities cannot ban guns in dormitories because it violates Senate Bill 11, said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a nonbinding opinion Monday about the new state law known as “campus carry.” This came in response to a request (RQ-0076-KP) filed by state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), the bill’s author.

In his request, Birdwell clarified the term “campus carry” as a misnomer since “it has been legal for Texas concealed handgun licensees to carry on college campuses since 1996,” noting that S.B. 11 decriminalizes “the carrying of concealed handguns in College buildings, activity grounds and transportation vehicles…It also prohibits public colleges from adopting ‘any rule, regulation, or other provision prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns on the campus of the institution.'” It defines “campus” as “all land and buildings owned or lease.”

S.B. 11 goes into effect at Texas public colleges and universities on August 1, 2016 and at community colleges one year later. Private colleges, however, can opt out. Public higher education institutions can designate some parts of their campuses as “gun free zones,” including some buildings, although the law states that those gun-free zones cannot make it impossible to reasonably carry a handgun at all, which pertains to dormitories. Paxton wrote: “If an institution placed a prohibition on handguns in the institution’s residential facilities, however, it would effectively prohibit license holders in those facilities from carrying concealed handguns on campus, in violation of S.B. 11.”

The Attorney General also stated S.B. 11 permits universities to create “rules, regulations, or other provisions concerning the storage of handguns in dormitories’ which he noted “presupposed their presence in dormitories.” The University of Texas at Austin created a campus carry task force which recommended allowing concealed handguns inside classrooms but banning them in dormitories and at sporting events, Dallas’ WFAA 8 (ABC) reported. The task force’s concerns centered on potential improper storage of firearms in the dormitory, allowing access to someone other than the owner. In his opinion, Paxton evaluates what is in the law but does not address safety issues.

UT-Austin emerged as a fierce critic of S.B. 11. Professor Joan Neuberger organized the anti-campus carry group Gun Free UT. Breitbart Texas reported on her opposition to all guns on campus. She claimed if the university did not repeal “campus carry,” Gun Free UT might sue. Neuberger and other professors protested, asserting 1,000 UT faculty members opposed guns in their classrooms. Education lobbyists also stood against S.B. 11, as did UT System Chancellor William McRaven, former head of U.S. Special Operations Command who directed the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, according to Austin NBC affiliate KXAN 36.

However, “a court would likely conclude that a public institution of higher education exceeds the authority granted under Senate Bill 11 if it prohibits the carrying of concealed handguns in a number of classrooms or delegates to individual professors the decision as to whether possession of a concealed handgun is allowed in the individual professor’s classroom,” the opinion read.

KXAN 36 cited approximately 48,000 students on the UT-Austin campus of which only 2.5 percent are over 21 years old and live in the dorms. The task force found almost 99 percent of that student population live off of the Austin campus, according to the Dallas ABC affiliate. Quick facts about S.B. 11 posted online by Texas A&M at Kingston said Texans must be 21-years-old to obtain a concealed carry license and pass the background check plus the concealed handgun license (CHL) class, written, and proficiency exams conducted by instructors certified by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). In 2014, Texans aged 21-30 comprised 1.44 percent of CHL holders. The campus estimated 400 students in residence halls are over 21-years-old. Based on quick fact statistics, that would make 5-6 students living in Kingston campus dormitories potential CHL holders.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.