The campus carry working group released 25 recommendations to the UT president Thursday, including that guns should not be prohibited in classrooms.
Campus carry, or S.B. 11, will allow licensed concealed handgun holders to carry in campus buildings starting Aug. 1, 2016. UT President Gregory Fenves announced the working group in August, asking it to make recommendations that could influence how the law will be implemented on campus. Fenves will make a decision on the implementation that he will present to the UT System.
Although the report says every member of the working group is opposed to having guns in classrooms, the group said it cannot recommend an out-right prohibition in classrooms in accordance with the law.
“The Working Group recognizes that allowing concealed handguns in classrooms may chill some class discussion and hinder the recruitment and retention of faculty and students,” the report reads. “But it is also clear to us that excluding handguns from classrooms would effectively prohibit license holders from carrying their handguns and so would violate S.B. 11.”
The working group discussed providing gun lockers on campus in order to prohibit the concealed carry of guns in classrooms, but it determined their use could be unsafe and cause undue harm to those on campus through accidental discharge.
“The Working Group concluded, without hesitation, that the risks to human life of placing gun lockers around campus would substantially outweigh any benefits that would accrue from banning concealed handguns in classrooms,” the report reads.
Radio-television-film professor Ellen Spiro, a member of Gun-Free UT, an anti-campus carry group lead by professors, said she is disappointed with the plan to not prohibit guns in the classroom.
“The only role guns can have in the classroom is to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation which is a direct assault on academic freedom,” Spiro said. “In every discipline at this university, students deal with sensitive [and] personal issues in their work.”
Steven Goode, law professor and chair of the working group, said despite any hesitations, he expects those on campus campus to acclimate to the law once it is implemented.
“We have tried to address the fears to the extent we can in accordance with the charge President Fenves gave us, which was to ensure safety and security and comply with the law,” Goode said. “What we have heard from other states is once campus carry started, it went fairly smoothly and became routine … but that being said, people are going to have fears.”
The group also recommended handguns not be carried in places such as certain laboratories, patient-care areas and on-campus residence halls, with certain exceptions, including that handguns should be allowed in “common areas of on-campus residence halls.” The group recommended allowing handguns in University apartments.
Under the recommendations, people with single person offices would be allowed to determine whether to prohibit guns in their offices. The group also recommended that each licensed concealed handgun user have their gun on their person at all times.
To best implement the law, the group suggested the University better publicize mental health services, develop better safety training, conduct data on the effects of campus carry and implement gun-exclusion zones for faculty and staff who require office spaces but don’t have an assigned office.
Goode said costs of implementation are not expected to be too high since most costs will deal with appropriate signage denoting proper concealed carry.
Throughout the semester, several campus groups have spoken against the concealed carry of guns on campus, asking for the addition of gun-free zones at certain campus locations. Gun-Free UT released a petition signed by more than 1300 professors, saying they would not allow guns in their classrooms. Faculty Council also passed a resolution in November asking for the prohibition of guns in residence halls, laboratories and classrooms.
Goode said the group took campus opinion into account, but also considered how to keep campus safe while obeying the law.
"The Working Group is keenly aware of the sentiment on campus," Goode said in a press release. “We strived to forge recommendations that will promote safety on campus in a way that complies with the law.”
Fenves said he has “deep concerns” about the effects S.B. may have on campus, especially considering a planned “mock mass shooting” that will occur near campus this weekend.
“Such attitudes have no place at UT and they reinforce my deep concerns about SB 11 and the potential impact that handguns will have on campus," Fenves said in the release. "However, I have a responsibility to implement the law and will do so in a way that addresses the safety of our community.”
This story is developing. Check back later for updates.