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By Jim Castagnera

If 2015 was the year of the weed — aka marijuana — on college campuses (and I think it was, given the momentum of the legalization/decriminalization movement), then 2016 will be the year of the gun. Colleges and universities across the country, but most especially in Texas, will be wrestling with what their policies should be concerning firearms on campuses.

The issue seems urgent. In 2015, more than two-dozen campuses were the sites of shootings, many of them resulting in fatalities. Educational institutions at all levels from K through college logged more than 50 such incidents last year. In one of the worst, ten people were killed when a gunman opened fire at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in early October. Seven other people were injured, and at the end of the day the shooter was dead too.

Concealed Carry Coming to Your Campus?

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the gun-debate spectrum, on December 12th, the University of Texas released the recommendations of a working group, instigated by the institution’s president, to the effect that concealed carry will be allowed in the Texas flagship’s classrooms. The slick 25-page report offers 25 recommendations. [University of Texas at Austin Campus Carry Policy Working Group, Final Report, December 2015,

“When it comes to offices, the Working Group gave the occupants control over whether or not they will be gun-free. Any university staff or faculty must provide oral notice that concealed carry is prohibited in their office if they choose to keep the space gun-free. The Working Group added that if an office’s occupant regularly meets with concealed carry holders they should make arrangements to meet at a different location.” [Brendan Krisel, “UT-Austin Panel: Allow Guns in Classrooms,Austin Patch, December 10, 2015]

Reportedly, all 19 panel-members reluctantly voted in favor of the classroom-carry rule, considering themselves bound by Senate Bill 11, enacted last June oby the Lone Star State’s legislature. The statute forbids public-university officials from banning concealed carry by licensed gun owners on their campuses.

Meanwhile, a growing list of other Texas schools, led by Rice and SMU, have decided to exercise their option under the new law to ban guns from their campuses.

What does all this mean to the rest of us in higher ed?

The response to marijuana legalization in Alaska, Colorado and Washington has been an almost unanimous banning of recreational pot from university campuses in those states.  As noted above, the reaction of most Texas colleges to the state’s new concealed-carry law similarly has been a rejection of firearms on their campuses.  We higher ed professionals would appear to be a cautious bunch when it comes to “reforms” that might bring dangerous commodities — be they grass or guns — onto our premises.

Expressing exasperation with the Congress, President Obama earlier this month issued an executive order aimed at controlling gun sales to the mentally disturbed by tightening background checks.  Meanwhile, some Republican presidential candidates are espousing the “arm the good guys” approach reflected in the Texas legislation.  This promises to be a core issue of this year’s national elections.

Thus far, all indications are that the higher education industry falls firmly on the side of greater gun control over countering guns with more guns.  But, as with the halls of government and the campaign trail, the issue is far from settled in our ivory towers.  Later this month, I will participate in a forum at the Case Western Reserve Law School, sponsored by the Student Federalist Society there, which will debate the question.  Expect more of the same sort of questioning across our campuses as 2016 rolls forward.  With no clear national consensus and no “silver bullets” in sight, we university leaders largely are left to figure this one out for ourselves.

 

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