Fifty years to the day since the nation's first mass campus shooting at the University of Texas, campus carry has taken effect at all public universities in Texas and a single private university, which, given the choice to opt out of the law, instead decided to opt in.
Starting today, all concealed handgun licensees will be allowed to pack heat across campus, except in buildings where guns are off-limits, decided by each school's campus carry committee and approved by its board of regents.
Despite the fact that guns are off-limits in nearly 50 places on campus, that gun lockers are available only at one non-centrally located building and that the signage isn't necessarily helpful unless you're looking at the bottom of a door, UH Police Chief Ceasar Moore said Monday he has confidence the campus-carry rollout will go smoothly.
At the University of Houston, guns are off-limits in 22 buildings — including all dorms, health centers, places where children are present (like the day-care center) and at sporting events. Firearms are partially prohibited in another 26 buildings, including science labs and engineering classrooms.
In case a CHL holder wants to store the gun while he or she attends class in one of these off-limits places, UH bought 25 individual gun lockers — which can be unlocked only with the gun owner's fingerprint — at a cost of approximately $5,000. They'll be available solely at the UH police headquarters and will be guarded by police 24 hours a day. The university also hired nine extra officers to prepare for campus carry.
Even though the police headquarters is on the edge of campus — nearly a mile from the other end of campus — UH Police Chief Ceasar Moore said he had faith that people would still use the lockers. If a gun carrier showed up at a building where he didn't know campus carry was off-limits, Moore said he believed the gun owner would walk all the way back to his car or residence or to the gun lockers to put the gun away.
"I think....we have a very well-behaved community here," Moore said. "I have full faith that our student population will do that. Those who are licensed to carry are law-abiding citizens. They go through a process. And they tend to be very aware of their surroundings, because that goes with the duty to carry that weapon. They understand that."
Moore said that if anyone is caught breaking the rules, police will contact the Harris County District Attorney's Office in every case to see if charges are necessary, no matter how small the infraction. So if a student accidentally brings her gun to the day care, or the stadium, or her friend's dorm and is seen by police, Moore said the DA's office may consider trespassing charges or the class A misdemeanor charge for unlawful carry of a weapon.
Those carriers better have a keen eye, because at UH, it appears, that “no smoking” sign is more obvious than “no guns” — at least at the child-care center. There, the penal code is printed on the bottom half of the glass front door in relatively small, white lettering, with a red gun with a slash through it printed at the very bottom of the door. Moore, however, said he thinks it will be "pretty evident" to gun carriers where they can and can't carry. Moore said police don't have any estimate as to how many students or faculty members will have guns on them — carriers don't need to “register” with the school. And instructors aren't supposed to take a show of hands as to how many of their pupils have a gun in their backpack, either.
For those who feel unsafe about the fact that their desk-mate might be packing heat, Moore's advice was to take it up with the state Legislature and complain to lawmakers. “That's the beauty of the democratic process,” he said.
Last year, to no avail, survivors of mass shootings on college campuses did complain to the Legislature, asking that lawmakers reconsider passing a bill to allow more guns on campus. One was Claire James Wilson — the first victim shot by Charles Whitman from the University of Texas Tower, on August 1, 1966. Wilson was pregnant at the time, and she lost both her baby and her boyfriend in Whitman's massacre. She told lawmakers, “It was a huge interruption in my young adult life, and it's only in the last few months it's hit me how much was lost.”