Aug. 1, 2016 marked fifty years since a shooter attacked the University of Texas at Austin from atop the clock tower. It also marked the first day that people with licenses to carry handguns can take their weapons onto Texas public college campuses.
State lawmakers say the timing of the “Campus Carry” law on the anniversary of the Tower shooting is a coincidence.
People who lived through the UT Tower shooting have mixed emotions about the new law.
Sue Wiseman isn’t sure allowing guns on college campuses is going to prevent future incidents. “I’ve been there,” she says. “I’ve seen what will happen and I don’t think just allowing somebody to have one is going to make us safer.”
Larry Faulkner says there’s no reason to allow guns on campus. “In the era we’re in now, it’s insane, there’s no purpose to it, there’s no reason to allow it,” he says.
But some are in support of the new law.
“If I was a student on campus, I would want to be able to carry a gun in my purse,” says Cheryl Botts Dickerson.
Ray Martinez is also on board. “I believe in the second amendment, however with common sense,” he says.
Texas is joining eight other states that allow guns on campus, as the controversial campus carry law takes effect Aug. 1.
Now people with licenses can carry concealed weapons at public colleges across Texas.
The change has stirred both comfort and fear at the University of Houston.
Take new student orientation. It covers the basics of college life, including class schedules, academic advising and what to do when students become sick. Now it also covers carrying a gun.
“Concealed carry is you cannot see it. So bottom line is you should not see any guns here on this campus, unless it’s a law enforcement officer,” explained Sgt. Dina Padovan to a crowd of new transfer students and their parents.
All summer Padovan with the campus police has given this lecture on what they can expect from campus carry.
It’s one way the University of Houston has prepared for guns on campus.
State lawmakers passed campus carry in 2015, but universities were given time to draft their own policies. University presidents can create some gun-free zones, but they can’t enact a campus-wide ban or a classroom-wide ban. Public four-year universities have to follow campus carry, while private universities can opt out. It will impact Texas public community colleges in 2017.
UH Police Chief Ceaser Moore said that he doesn’t know if guns will make campus safer. He’s focused on raising awareness.
“We’re past the philosophical argument of pro or con. We’re at this point where the law has passed, the policy is in place and we’re implementing the law. That’s what we’re doing,” Moore said.
Moore said that the most visible change will be new signs that mark gun-free zones — places like the day care, special labs and the recreation and wellness center.
“I don’t think that the typical student will see any difference in their college experience because the typical student will not be carrying a gun,” Moore said.
Until now, guns haven’t been part of the typical college experience in Texas. In fact, one survey found that students in Texas oppose guns on campus two to one.
Students who advocate for gun rights welcome the change.
“You can carry within here and everything,” said Aaron Patton, a junior majoring in biotechnology at UH. During the semester, he regularly grabs food and meets friends at the student center. He grew up hunting and got a concealed carry license when he was 18 back home in Alabama.
“To me, that’s nice. I carry most places that I go off of campus. It’s nice to know that I can come in and I can eat and I can feel safe knowing I have my own firearm on me,” Patton said.
When Patton gets his final class schedule, he’ll check if concealed weapons are restricted in any of them. He plans to carry as much as possible.
“In case something awful were to happen on campus, I’d know I’d be able to defend and protect myself,” Patton said.
Other students find no comfort in that.
“To say the least, I’d say I’m frightened,” said Ahmed Sarraj. He’s a senior and plans to graduate in chemical engineering next May.
“I know in Texas here, everyone just talks about how much we like our guns. But with campus carry, I think that’s the last place guns should be — at a school environment like the University of Houston,” Sarraj said.
Sarraj has to adapt to that concept at the student center, in his classes and where he lives. He’s going to be a resident adviser at the only dorm on campus where concealed weapons are allowed, the Calhoun Lofts.
“It’d be, I guess, alarming to open up a resident’s room and see a gun there and then know that they’re allowed to have that gun,” Sarraj said.
In that case, he’s supposed to walk out and call the cops. Concealed handguns can’t be in plain sight at the dorm; they have to be kept on the license holder’s body or in a secure gun safe.
But concealed weapons are allowed inside professor’s offices at UH. That has professors like Maria Gonzalez nervous.
“I teach feminist theory and I teach queer theory. I teach some fairly controversial topics,” Gonzalez said.
This year Gonzalez might be more cautious with those controversial topics. She might move student meetings to gun-free zones. Gonzalez also wants to help the department’s academic advisers file a request to make their office gun-free. That’s an option under the UH campus carry policy if an area meets certain criteria for a restriction.
“Because we have had incidents where we have had to call security on a student, where, in fact, students have yelled and screamed. You know, they’ve said things like, ‘You’ve ruined my life’ at the top of their lungs,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez has also considered something else. She may get her own license to carry a weapon.
“There’s a part of me that instinctively says if you’re concealed carrying, so am I,” she said. “But then I’m just asking for the OK Corral here.”
She has three more weeks to decide before classes start.