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UT System Regents Considering Changes to Campus Carry Rules

Members of the University of Texas System Board of Regents expressed concern about their schools’ proposed rules for handguns on campus and signaled plans to attempt to change some of those policies before they go into effect on Aug 1.

On Nov. 10, 2015, University of Texas at Austin faculty and students protested the new campus carry law that will allow concealed handgun license holders to carry handguns into campus buildings.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Members of the University of Texas System Board of Regents met Thursday expecting to approve new rules for guns on their 14 campuses. Instead, they raised new worries about the proposed guidelines and signaled intent to try to change them, especially at the flagship UT-Austin.

In a 45-minute discussion, regents became bogged down in debate over issues like trigger guards, bullets in gun chambers, and if and how faculty should be able to ban weapons in their individual offices. Practically every regent seemed to have a unique opinion. A consensus seemed out of reach. Ultimately, the regents delayed a vote on the issue and will take it up again at a future meeting.

“Let’s handle this issue collectively and resolve all of the issues with thorough investigation,” said Regent Jeffrey Hildebrand.

The issue was on the docket because of Senate Bill 11, known as the campus carry law. Passed during the 2015 Legislative session and taking effect Aug. 1, the law will allow anyone with a concealed handgun license to be armed on public college campuses across the state.

The law allowed universities to make some exceptions by creating “gun-free zones,” but those rules must be limited in scope and can’t have the cumulative effect of making it impossible to carry a gun on campus at all.

Read MoreThe Tribune's Coverage on Campus Carry

The responsibility for writing those rules was assigned to each university president. But the regents are allowed to revise them with a two-thirds vote.

Across the UT System, the rules have a lot in common. All universities will allow guns in classrooms but will ban them in child care facilities and laboratories with dangerous chemicals. Some schools, including UT-Austin, will ban guns in dormitories.

But UT-Austin’s rules were stricter in other ways. University President Greg Fenves proposed allowing professors and other staff to ban guns in their individual offices. And he recommended requiring guns to be carried without a bullet in their chambers. That rule, Fenves said, was designed to prevent accidental discharges. When the university researched campus carry in other states, it found that most on-campus incidents related to guns involved people accidentally firing their weapons.

Many guns have safety features to prevent that, but the law doesn’t give the university the authority to require those features. So a no-bullet-in-the-chamber policy is the next best solution, Fenves said.

“We believe it is a safety issue,” he said.

But regents expressed worry that the chamber rule was misguided.

“What I am told by the experts that I have asked for advice from is that it is a significant risk to have people moving rounds in and out of chamber,” Board Chairman Paul Foster said. “That is the instance where an accidental discharge takes place. It is not from carrying a gun around that that has a round in the chamber.” 

Let’s handle this issue collectively and resolve all of the issues with thorough investigation— Jeffrey Hildebrand, University of Texas System regent

With a two-thirds vote required, it’s difficult to say whether the regents will be able to act on any of their concerns. Regents would need to build a consensus to make a change. If no changes are approved, the rules will go into effect as the presidents wrote them.

At least one regent expressed skepticism toward making any changes. Regent Sara Martinez Tucker noted that each president has researched the rules for their campus thoroughly. Overriding those decisions could be a mistake, she said.

"They have been working on this for months," she said.  

During the meeting, Fenves defended his rules, saying they “promote campus safety and are compliant with the law.” Afterward, he said his opinion hadn't changed.

"I stand by the recommendations," he said.

Disclosure: The University of Texas System, the University of Texas at Austin and Paul Foster have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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