Here's What Happens If You Break UT's Just-Approved Campus-Carry Rules

The University of Texas Board of Regents approved the university system's largely restrictive campus-carry rules Wednesday, striking down only one controversial provision.

At UT-Austin, professors will be able to prohibit guns in their individual offices; the school is the only public university in the state to adopt this rule. The board of regents won't, however, move forward with a rule that would have banned gun carriers from having any chambered rounds in their semiautomatic handguns anywhere on campus. UT-Austin President Gregory Fenves argued that keeping the chambered rounds out of guns would be safer, guarding against accidental discharges — but the board apparently didn't buy it.

The no-chambered-rounds ban would have forced gun carriers to manually cock pistols before firing.

Campus carry is set to go into effect on August 1. All public universities are required to comply with the law, and private universities are allowed to opt out (virtually every single one has so far). The Legislature allowed universities to create their own rules about specific places guns could be prohibited on campus, and at UT, along with some individual offices, those places include all dormitories at some schools including UT-Austin, labs where dangerous chemicals or experiments are present, buildings where kids are present, and sporting events.

But still: The question that campus-carry opponents — and probably many people, whether they're against the law or not — have consistently asked is how universities will actually enforce these provisions. Is the student who accidentally brings a gun to a building where kids are touring a classroom that day actually going to turn around and walk a half-mile back to his dorm to put it away? Is a student visiting a professor in a building where guns are permitted actually going to respect that professor's wishes that she not bring a gun into his office?

Here's how Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security and the chairman of the Campus Concealed Carry Implementation Task Force, answered that question: “We believe the person who has the license to carry values that license, and we believe they cherish that license and that right to carry and will be responsive to the law."

So what happens if these supposedly well-intentioned campus-carriers break the rules?

Not much, depending on what the person is doing when caught with the gun.

Harkins said that, given that students are only allowed to conceal-carry, if anyone ever sees a gun anywhere on campus, he or she should call 911 immediately. Police will show up and confront the individual carrying the gun. The only time it would result in criminal sanctions is if the person were brandishing the gun as though to threaten someone, Harkins said.

If the dude just accidentally flashed the gun tucked in his jacket, or it accidentally fell out of his backpack in an off-limits building, police will take down his name and record what happened. If it truly was an honest mistake, they would give him a warning and let him go on the grounds of “No harm, no foul,” Harkins said. And if the same person keeps “accidentally” bringing the gun to places where it is prohibited, Harkins said, police would have to talk it over and decide where to go from there. 

With enough of these accidental infractions, or a very serious one, Harkins said, the person may be sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which could decide to rescind the person's license.

“If you decide you want to come to campus carrying," Harkins said, "then it's up to you to figure out where you can legally carry and where you legally can't. The burden is on the licensed-to-carry person."

So it sounds like a system based on trust: trust that college students will actually be proactive and look up where guns are and are not allowed before leaving their car, trust that they will turn around and go put the gun back if they accidentally bring it where it's not allowed, trust that they won't do something dumb like flash it in their jacket on purpose.

That idea is exactly why three UT professors sued the board of regents, Fenves (despite his opposition) and Attorney General Ken Paxton, arguing faculty should be allowed to ban guns in their own classrooms — because they don't trust that, when debates become heated, students will always act with cool heads.

The professors have asked for a preliminary injunction before the law takes effect on August 1. The first sentence of the suit points out the irony of that date: It is the 50-year anniversary of the day Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the UT Tower and shot 43 people to death, among the worst shootings in U.S. history.

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn