Carry that weight: Understanding new gun control legislation

Published on: February 4, 2016

Filled Under: Beyond Our Walls, News, Showcase

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“I’m just very simple about it,” college counselor Eric Heineman said. “In places where they don’t have guns, people don’t die from gun violence.”

Just over sixth months ago, Texas’ 84th Legislative Session came to a close. Among the bills that passed were two very controversial pieces of legislation, both of which were signed into action by Governor Abbott on June 13th: Senate Bill 11, more commonly known as Campus Carry, and House Bill 910, or Open Carry.

Both about very charged topics, these bills have spurred demonstrations at the University of Texas at Austin and attracted extreme national attention.

They have also attracted a whole horde of misconceptions.

The two bills, although about similar topics, do not go hand-in-hand. “Campus Carry” goes into effect August 1st, 2016 and allows registered gun owners ages twenty-one and over to carry concealed on public Texas campuses. Private universities can opt out of this requirement (so far twenty have), and public universities, pending input from the college community, can designate areas of campus as “gun-free.”

“Open Carry”, on the other hand, went into effect January 1st and authorizes licensed individuals to carry openly in most locations, with some exceptions including medical hospitals, jails, churches, and schools.

Resident college expert and Texas public school advocate, Heineman has several opinions about House Bill 910: “Campus carry number one distracts from the purpose of education,” he said.

“The sense that I have about ‘Campus Carry’ in public education is that we have moved from creating schools as a haven,” Heineman continued. “The term ‘haven’ means that all people can find refuge–you don’t need to fear reprisal of your ideas, you don’t need to fear reprisal of your citizenship, for instance…And particularly if we bring weapons into place that used to be a haven, it’s no longer a haven for everyone.”

Aside from serving as an “intimidation factor,” Heineman believes that the presence of guns on campus could hurt the hiring process for public schools, as well as Texas’ reputation in the academic sphere.

“In education, it’s just another thing that makes Texas look like a bunch of bumpkins.”

Though new to Texas, “Campus Carry” is not a new concept.campus-carry-infographic

Although the passing of “Campus Carry” has attracted quite a bit of national attention, seven other states already explicitly allow “Campus Carry”: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin.

This being said, the recent polarized nature of gun control issues has made the campus carry law particularly charged. See the infographic to the right to see how much of the legislative session was spent on each bill.

For Heineman, the fact that so much time was spent on gun-related debates over other education bills is disturbing. “It’s a disappointment that it was a priority,” he said.

“The priority of ‘Campus Carry’ did pass the legislature, but not all of the bills regarding financial aid and access and equity in education were necessarily prioritized,” Heineman said. “That’s disconcerting that our value systems are so far removed from the outcomes of education that we’re fighting for rights that clearly distract.”

As a local, public school, Ann Richards has several connections to the University of Texas at Austin. Several Ann Richards alumni currently attend UT and a smattering of teachers are alumni.

“I definitely see it [campus carry] more as a symbol,” Josie Maclean, Ann Richards Class of 2015 and current freshman at UT said. “I grew up in Texas, I totally understand wanting to own a gun…but I just don’t think a college campus is the place for it.”

Contrary to Maclean, UT alum and math teacher Shamaa Lakshmanan had a particularly strong reaction to her alma mater’s new policy.

“I hate it. I don’t like it,” Lakshmanan said. “My college experience was very strong socially. I would hang out in front of the union [and the Six Pack] all the time…I don’t know if I would feel comfortable doing the same kind of outdoorsy things that interested me that I did before.”

Campus Carry will go into effect in just over six months on August 1st, fifty years to the day after the infamous UT Clock Tower Shooting, the incident often considered the first mass campus shooting when an architecture major shot 43 people from the top of the UT clock tower, killing 13. Although it remains to be seen how exactly the new law will affect students and citizens, some people, like Heineman feel sure of some things:

“You feel less free when someone threatens you with a weapon.”

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