Athletic events proposed as gun-free zones at Town Hall meeting
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Last night, following months of public discussion and debate, the Sam Houston State University Campus Carry Committee presented its findings and a draft of its policy recommendations for the implementation of Texas’ new Campus Carry law.
The final town hall meeting hosted by the committee, led by Phillip Lyons, Dean of the College of Criminal Justice, began with a brief overview of State Senate Bill 11 and its recommended locations on campus to establish gun free zones, or Prohibited Concealed Carry Locations (PCCL).
Prior to opening up the town hall meeting for public discussion, which was held to gather feedback from stakeholders and entertain revisions to the policy prior to submitting a final recommendation, Lyons clarified to the audience what the committee was aiming to accomplish.
“I think it would be useful for us to remember that the legislation of issue has passed already, the law is the law and will be effective August 1,” Lyons said, likely in reference to the previous campus carry town halls where many of the attendees who spoke were opposed to implementing SB11 entirely. “Our task here is to figure out how to implement that law in a safe manner and in a manner that’s consistent with the state legislature.”
The drafted policy, consistent with the legislatures’ intent, will allow for individuals 21 years of age who currently possess a handgun license to legally carry a concealed holstered handgun on the SHSU campus.
Despite the vocal concerns, students who live on campus will be permitted to carry their concealed handguns in the residence halls. Prohibiting handguns in the university’s residential facilities, according to Lyons, would effectively prohibit license holders residing in those facilities from carrying concealed handguns on campus, in violation of SB11.
Although the policy permits students to carry concealed handguns in SHSU’s dormitories, the students – not the university – are responsible for the safe storage of their handgun in their residence by use of secure storage devices.
“The reason for the ‘safe storage’ requirement is because your roommate might not be a licensed holder, your roommate might not have gone through the safety courses and so on,” Lyons said. “The purpose is to limit access to others besides the license holder,”
Lyons added that visitors to the campus housing units are held to the same standards of concealment and storage as residents.
The town hall meeting, held in the Criminal Justice Center’s Killinger Auditorium, largely consisted of discussion over the recommended campus locations to be established as gun free areas.
The committee identified that the percentage of the campus that was effected by this no-carry recommendation is less than 1.5 percent of square feet.
“We do not believe this poses a substantial restriction on the right to carry and we think this falls well within the category of reasonable restrictions,” Lyons said.
All official athletic events, collegiate and interscholastic, held in SHSU’s athletic venues, including Bowers Stadium and Johnson Coliseum, will be considered Prohibited Concealed Carry Locations for the duration of the event.
A student athlete in attendance asked Lyons whether the committee had considered making the athletic locker rooms off limits to handguns.
According to Lyons, the rules will be different on game days because weapons are already prohibited at collegiate events.
“If you want to, you can bring [your handgun] to practice, but not on game day,” Lyons said.
The athletic venues listed are not permanently off limits to concealed handgun holders, unless otherwise explicitly stated with proper signage. According to University Police Chief Kevin Morris, other types of events held at the athletic venues such as graduation ceremonies will not be considered as gun free areas.
Questions from the Audience
Other attendees of the town hall did not suggest additional gun free areas, but instead questioned the ones proposed by the committee.
Junior criminal justice major and member of Open Carry Texas Christopher Martin asked the committee what their justification was for a permanent prohibition of concealed handguns in facilities where mental health services are provided.
“College is a time for a lot of stress for many students and we have to remember that, at least in the case with our students, we’re not just talking about licensees, we’re talking about the youngest possible licensees under law,” Lyons said. “And students are at higher risk for alcoholism, for drug abuse, for violence, for suicide and it’s just not a good idea to have firearms readily available where we have mental health services being provided.”
Once submitted for approval by President Dana G. Hoyt, the policy proposal will then be presented to the Texas State University System Board of Regents for final approval.
As to whether these policy recommendations will be approved by the Board of Regents, committee member Jaimie Hebert, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, was confident that the policy was well within its legal boundaries.
“We feel like the policy that we’re presenting here optimizes our ability to maintain the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff while maintaining the integrity of our educational opportunities,” Hebert said. “We feel that what we have proposed will fly.”