Rice University President: Nobody Here Wants Campus-Carry

On Monday, Rice University announced that it would be opting out of Texas's campus-carry law, which will allow Concealed Handgun License holders to carry guns on college campuses starting August 2016.

In a letter announcing the university's decision, President David W. Leebron indicated that basically no one a work group consulted at the university supported letting college kids carry around guns. “In fact,” Leebron said in the letter, every student or faculty organization they talked to “overwhelmingly opposed it.”

Only private universities are allowed to opt out of the law, and so far, Rice joins Trinity University, Paul Quinn College, and Southern Methodist University in saying no thanks to concealed guns on campus. Leebron said that, in addition to putting together the work group that consulted with various campus organizations, Rice also held public meetings and released online surveys to arrive at this decision.

“Many of the comments submitted were very passionate, reflecting a belief that guns on our campus would make the campus less safe and harm our national and international reputation,” Leebron wrote. Campus police and professionals from the Student Health Services and the Counseling Center were also among the groups opposing the law.

Meanwhile, public universities like the University of Houston and Texas Southern University will have to draft policies that restrict where exactly students can carry guns, as allowed by the law. (What they're not allowed to do, though, is circumvent the law and say they're restricted everywhere.) Many schools, including U of H and TSU, have already held panels to hear concerns from students and faculty. Suggestions at Houston's panel included banning guns in classrooms, buildings where counseling or psychological services take place, any staff offices whatsoever, and even dorm rooms—one noted that in the military, they have a separate arms rooms for guns so they're not lying around the dorms. (And that raises another concern that some universities have started to grapple with: If they do need to construct gun-storage facilities, where are those funds going to come from?)

TSU's panel drew a particularly invested crowd, as students had just seen four shootings in six weeks on or near campus and were already dealing with increased security measures. Public universities will have until next spring to finalize policies, which their respective board of regents will approve.

Some are already on their way there. The University of Texas already announced that it plans to restrict guns in “classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, university offices and other spaces of education.” Which didn't please the campus-carry law's sponsor, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), who reacted last week by asking Attorney General Ken Paxton for an opinion on whether public schools would be violating the law if they prohibited them in classrooms, dorms, or simply just in too many places.

From his letter to Paxton, here's Birdwell's take on why presidents shouldn't be able to ban guns in classrooms: "If a public college were to adopt a rule that prohibits the carrying of concealed handguns by Licensees in college classrooms, it would effectively force such students to leave their handguns in their personal motor vehicles, or in their dormitories or other residential housing. Since students go to college to attend classes, this would effectively prohibit a student from carrying their handgun on campus."

Many campus educators apparently disagree. More than 1,300 UT professors have already vowed to personally prohibit them in classrooms, and over 8,000 people support a petition spearheaded by UT to repeal the law. UT students were perhaps the most visibly angry about the campus-carry law, having planned a demonstration called “Cocks Not Glocks” in which they'll carry around dildos to protest the law next August. Their tagline: "Fighting absurdity with absurdity."

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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