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UT-Austin Faculty Can Ban Guns in Offices

The University of Texas at Austin will give its faculty and staff the option of banning guns from their private offices when the state’s campus carry law goes into effect next month, under regulations UT System regents passed Wednesday.

Stephanie Odam of Austin marches in a campus carry protest in Austin, Jan 8, 2015.

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

The University of Texas at Austin will give its faculty and staff the option of banning guns from their private offices when the state’s campus carry law goes into effect next month, under regulations that UT System regents passed Wednesday.

The regents voted down a contentious proposal, however, that would have banned handguns with a loaded chamber at UT-Austin.

At their meeting in Austin, the regents on Wednesday discussed how the system's 14 campuses will regulate concealed handguns under Senate Bill 11, commonly known as campus carry. The law, which takes effect Aug. 1, allows people with concealed handgun licenses to bring their firearms onto public college campuses in Texas, except for limited “gun-free zones” designated by the universities.

University presidents were tasked with crafting how their schools would implement the law, subject to change by a two-thirds vote of the regents. 

Under the rules, all schools in the UT system will permit concealed carry in classrooms but prohibit it in some other areas, such as laboratories that use dangerous chemicals, child-care facilities and ticketed sporting events for those that have them. Guns will not be allowed in dormitories at some schools, including UT-Austin.

UT-Austin President Greg Fenves had previously argued that a "chambered-round" provision, which would have prohibited people carrying on campus from keeping a bullet in their gun chambers, was needed to prevent guns from accidentally firing off. But Doug DuBois Jr., the executive director of Texas State Rifle Association, had argued in testimony Wednesday that the provision “would contribute to more confusion and less safety among licensees.”

The regents sided with DuBois, voting 6-2 in favor of Vice Chairman Jeffery Hildebrand’s motion to eliminate the provision from UT-Austin’s plan.

The UT-Austin proposal to allow faculty and staff to keep guns out of their private offices was also controversial, but it passed after a motion to override it failed. Hildebrand was among the majority there, saying professors should have the right to keep weapons out of their personal offices.

The provision spurred still more discussion, though, as the regents delved into a back-and-forth about how professors will communicate to students and others that their offices are gun-free. Under the policy, professors will be asked to alert visitors verbally when guns are banned.

Regent Alex Cranberg made a motion to denote all gun-free areas — including private faculty offices — with signage, suggesting that it might help limit confusion. But his motion failed after other regents questioned whether that policy would be possible to police, given the size of UT-Austin’s staff.

Wednesday’s meeting was one of the last hurdles for UT administrators ahead of the implementation of campus carry, which was signed into law more than a year ago and takes effect Aug. 1. The measure has been at the center of a wide-ranging debate over gun control in Texas that has taken the form of protests and — most recently — a lawsuit filed by three UT-Austin professors attempting to block it from taking effect.

It has also taken the UT regents time to decide how to implement the law: In May, they met with the expectation of approving proposed rules for each of the system’s campuses but instead argued over details, ultimately postponing a vote.

Speaking at a press conference following the regents’ meeting Wednesday, UT System officials acknowledged the contention surrounding the law.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen a more emotional issue rise in my time here than this particular one,” said David Daniel, the system’s deputy chancellor, acknowledging that there may be cases where students decide whether to attend UT because of the law.

Asked if System officials expect to see more lawsuits filed challenging the law’s implementation, Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster said, “People are passionate about it, so it wouldn’t surprise us.”

Fenves declined to comment on the arguments laid out in the faculty lawsuit but suggested that it communicates an opposition to campus carry shared by other professors on campus.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas System 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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