By: Ena Capucion | News Editor
Senate Bill 11, the campus carry gun law, will take effect Aug. 1 across all higher education institutions in Texas.
Campus carry differs from Senate Bill 17, or open carry, which allows concealed handgun license (CHL) owners to carry their gun on a shoulder or belt holster. Under campus carry, handguns must remain concealed.
University Police will make additional hires by the time the fall semester begins, said Ben Reyna, Security and Campus Affairs associate vice president. Reyna said there will be training for campus police regarding situations that may occur involving campus carry. There are also protocols in place to handle incidents such as a shootout or any other threat and have been in place prior to campus carry.
“The issue of addressing the matters [that] relates to handguns or any other weapons is a constant area of training [for] police officers,” he said. “[Training] will be consistent with the policy and the applicable laws that relates to CHL holders who now exercise the right … to carry concealed handguns on university campuses.”
The associate vice president, who is a former director of the U.S. Marshals Service and Brownsville Police chief, said anyone with any type of concern regarding campus carry should call the police department.
“The officers will always try to have a higher presence,” Reyna said. “Our police operations are always being adapted to the constant changing dynamics of our campus environment. Every day is a different day on our campus. Some days we have more events than others and it’s always our goal to ensure that we have a higher presence and are on the campus to provide the necessary response. But I think having that information out there is very, very important.”
UTRGV President Guy Bailey said he does not see campus carry having any effect on the campus.
“The one thing that we can reassure everybody is if you simply look at what’s happened where campus carry is legal–like in Colorado–there are no problems at all and it’s really ceased to be an issue at all, that’s the first thing,” Bailey said. “And the second thing is that [people] deal with it every day off campus.”
Across the Rio Grande Valley, there are signs at entrances to restaurants and stores stating that guns are not allowed on the premises. UTRGV will also be posting signs across campus in areas where guns are not allowed when the law takes effect Aug. 1. Some of these areas include child-care facilities, laboratories, places for religious worship and polling areas.
“We have exclusion zones and they [state] the specific rooms,” Reyna said. “They are being defined and this will be added as a supplement to our policy. … One of the things that we do want to encourage is that anybody should contact campus police right away in the event that they see any type of weapon [in an exclusion zone], whether concealed or not.”
To view the campus carry policy and exclusion zones, visit utrgv.edu/campuscarry.
The University of Texas System board of regents met last Wednesday to consider the campus carry plans of its institutions. The board approved the plans and made a change to UT Austin’s policy, “striking the university’s requirement that a concealed carry license holder who carries a semi-automatic handgun on campus must do so without a chambered round of ammunition,” according to a news release.
Striking the requirement “was based on information from weapon safety experts who raised concerns that creating a scenario where people may need to unload their guns prior to entering a building on campus could lead to unsafe situations, such as an accidental discharge,” the news release states.
As mentioned in the university’s handbook of operations, concealed handguns are prohibited in dorms that have more than an occupancy of one and do not allow a resident to safely secure his or her handgun such as Unity Hall, Heritage Hall or Troxell Hall in Edinburg. However, handguns are permitted in residential areas such as the Casa Bella apartments in Brownsville and the Village Apartments in Edinburg, which allow space to secure a handgun in private rooms.
The policy was distributed via email and is posted on the university website.
Teaching and Learning Lecturer Carmen Garcia-Caceres said with all of what has gone on in our nation, such as the Orlando nightclub and Dallas shootings, makes one very nervous. She finds herself being cautious when she goes to public events.
The university has been offering training and tips for different scenarios. Police Chief Raul Munguia said his department will provide more trainings in the fall.
“[The trainings] will be presented by one of our police officers,” Munguia said. “A lot of it is PowerPoint but it’s also discussion. … We show clips from past shootings and possible responses and basically … give them tools to buy a couple of minutes to give law enforcement an opportunity to get there. When you look at these active-shooter events, the vast majority of them, as soon as the officers arrive, it’s ended very, very quickly.”
Asked if she would feel safer if the university provided a mock shoot training, Garcia-Caceres replied that everyone would stand a better chance to survive.
“[The training] is very good because I think if you have this in the back of your mind–if it happens, wherever it happens–it doesn’t necessarily have to be on campus or in a classroom,” she said. “A situation like this might arise any place, you know, in the community. By having the training, you have something to fall back on.”
UTRGV junior Paola Rivas shares the same fears with Garcia-Caceres. Rivas finds it intimidating to be around people potentially carrying guns.
“It makes me really apprehensive and not as safe as it’s supposed to be doing,” the rehabilitation services major said. “I work at the mall and there’s a sign that says, like, they’re not allowing open carry. So, I see a lot of places that don’t allow it. So I think it’s really weird to have it in the first place when a lot of people obviously don’t feel comfortable enough to have it. I’m not even allowed to have scissors at the cash register area because they can use them to hurt someone else.”
To report suspicious activity, call University Police at 665-7151 on the Edinburg campus and at 882-8232 for the Brownsville and Harlingen campuses.
–-Jesus Sanchez, Michelle Espinoza, Monica Gudiño and Lesley Robles contributed to this report.