UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa reasserts opposition to handguns on campuses in letter

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UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa reasserted his opposition to allowing concealed handguns on System campuses in a letter sent to Gov. Rick Perry.

Cigarroa said he respects the Texas Legislature’s authority to decide on the issue and acknowledges that not everyone may agree with his conclusion.

“Both supporters and opponents of permitting concealed handguns on university campuses believe their approach will make campuses safer,” Cigarroa said in the letter, which was sent Tuesday. “I believe that, on balance, the permitted presence of concealed weapons will contribute to a less-safe campus environment.”

Bills in both houses of the Legislature have been filed that would allow concealed handguns on college campuses and could be topics of discussions at hearings this week. Cigarroa drafted a similar letter in the last legislative session, and it shortly preceded rumors of his firing.

Cigarroa's letter comes on the heels of various entities voicing their opinions on the issue. Last month, Faculty Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing guns on campus. Martha Hilley, music professor and council chairwoman, said the decision to once again affirm the faculty’s stance was simply to remind legislators that faculty views concerning weapons on campus have not changed. 

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” Hilley said in February. “There are two bills that have been filed, and we’re very worried. Not speaking as the chair but speaking for myself, I don’t want to be scared when I come to work. That’s just it, plain and simple. This is just to reaffirm.”

President William Powers Jr., who has previously expressed public opposition to concealed carry laws on campus, said continuing to affirm the idea of keeping guns out of the University is something that is protective of all students, not just faculty.

“My view is clear,” Powers said at the council's meeting in February. “My view is aggregate safety. Friday night comes once a week. Mixing alcohol and youth and firearms is not conducive to overall safety. On campus, I think our employees agree with that, and that’s not a new point for me.”

Powers also co-authored a letter earlier this year as a member of the executive committee of the Association of American Universities that urges President Barack Obama and Congress to take action to prevent gun violence in the U.S. by focusing on gun control, care for the mentally ill and media violence.

Invest in Texas, a student lobbying effort coordinated by the Senate of College Councils, Student Government and Graduate Student Assembly, advocates letting each university determine its own gun policy.

In his letter, Cigarroa outlines several of his concerns in allowing handguns in campus including potential increases in suicides and accidental wounds. He states that campus law enforcement officials are concerned about being able to distinguish between “the good guys from the bad guys” during an incident in which multiple guns are present. And he states a concern among hospitals and university labs of a potential gun discharge in the presence of gases and chemicals.

Cigarroa also sent the letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; House Speaker Joe Straus; Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso and chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee; and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice committee.