On Jan. 14, the UT Rio Grande Valley’s Campus Carry Working Group released its interim recommendations report, including exclusion zones, holder responsibilities and the classroom environment.
When the Texas Legislature approved Senate Bill 11, or Campus Carry, on May 31, 2015, it was clearly depicted that university presidents would be allowed to designate certain zones to be gun-free. As a result, UTRGV President Guy Bailey created the Working Group made up of 13 students, faculty, staff and community representatives to discuss and address Campus Carry in regard to the university last September.
SB 11, which was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last June, allows license holders to carry a concealed handgun while on the campus of an institution of higher education in the state and takes effect next August at universities and Aug. 1, 2017, at junior colleges.
Ben Reyna, Security and Campus Affairs associate vice president, serves as the chair of the Campus Carry Working Group. He has about 30 years of experience in law enforcement and is probably the single most knowledgeable person regarding gun control the university has, Bailey said.
Reyna is a former chief of the Brownsville Police Department, having served from 1995 until his retirement in May 2001. He then was appointed director of the U.S. Marshals Service and served from 2001 and to July 2005.
Last October, about 598 people attended the five town hall meetings that were held to create a forum for people of the Rio Grande Valley to voice their opinions regarding SB 11. Since then, the Working Group has received about 142 comments, ideas and suggestions.
“One thing that remained consistent with all the feedback was that the community was genuinely engaged,” Reyna said. “I believe that really defines and represents the spirit of the people associated with and also concerned for
The Working Group wrote four specific points regarding Campus Carry: exclusion zones, implementation, holder responsibilities and the classroom setting.
The group suggested 10 gun-free zones or circumstances, such as child-care facilities, patient care areas, athletic
and/or intercollegiate events as well as the UTRGV Mathematics and Science Academy. In summary, concealed handguns should be prohibited where the discharge may cause significant harm or accidents, in dormitories and whenever programs are held with the presence of children under age 18.
In terms of implementation, it recommends that students, employees, license holders and campus police be considered for training under different circumstances.
A suggestion for handgun storage was denied due to the increase in risk of another person gaining access to a handgun without a license, or any other scenario that would place the people of the university at more risk.
Holder responsibilities include holding the carrier accountable for his or her weapon. The licensed individual should also exercise precautions and safety, such as leaving the handgun in a holster or covering the trigger.
As for the classroom, if the working group were to consider the rooms a gun-free zone, it would violate SB 11; therefore, licensed holders are allowed to carry.
Bailey approved the report and it has been submitted for approval to the University of Texas System board of regents.
Most university presidents would still prefer not to be placed in a situation that could potentially create an issue for the students and staff of the university, Bailey said. However, now that SB 11 has become law, university presidents must abide by it to the best of their ability.
“I’m really pleased with the way everything turned out,” Bailey said. “The working group had a tough job and that
was to meet the basic needs required by Campus Carry. They did a great job of balancing those needs as well as prioritizing the safety and security of the people of the university.”
However, UTRGV student Leyla ElHaj, who is a victim of gun violence, will no longer find the university to be a safe place once the law takes effect in August.
“It’s triggering. It’s not something I feel comfortable being in school with,” the double major in psychology and biology student said. “When you put the guns into the hands of actual students, then you’re just encouraging that behavior. … There’s no place for guns to be in school. Regardless of whether or not it’s concealed, you still feel insecure [just knowing] someone can easily have a gun. It’s scary enough I have to drive down the street and I’m still scared of it and to come into an environment where I’m supposed to feel safe.”
Since Jan. 1, House Bill 910, or Open Carry, has been in effect and exempts institutions of higher education. Any person roaming the campus with a firearm in their possession will have committed a crime.