State senator seeks Paxton opinion on campus carry gun law

Responding to sharp concerns about guns on campus by students and faculty at the University of Texas and other schools, a Republican state senator has asked for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s opinion on the impact of the new “campus carry” law.

In a Wednesday letter to Paxton, Sen. Brian Birdwell said some of the policies being considered would violate the spirit and letter of the law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, 2016, for public colleges and universities. Junior and community colleges will have an extra year to comply, and all private schools can opt out of the requirement.

“Some public college professors are asking for a blanket rule against the carrying of concealed handguns by licensees in college classrooms,” while others have requested the right to bar guns from their classrooms, wrote Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Under the law, universities cannot “generally prohibit” license holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus, Birdwell wrote, adding that classroom-by-classroom bans “would create a hodgepodge of rules” that could equate to a general ban if enough professors follow through.

Birdwell was the author of Senate Bill 11, which will allow those with a handgun license to carry concealed weapons into classrooms, dorms and other buildings on public university and college campuses. The law also gives university presidents the authority to create “reasonable” rules designating certain areas off limits to guns. The law doesn’t specify what would be reasonable, however, and Birdwell said he was concerned about several campus proposals to limit SB 11’s reach.

Earlier this week, the UT Faculty Council voted unanimously to oppose guns in classrooms, offices and dorms, denouncing SB 11 for its potential to create an “uneasy and potentially hostile environment for intellectual inquiry.” A working group formed by UT President Gregory L. Fenves is expected to release its recommendations on how to implement the law next month.

Paxton, a vocal advocate for gun rights, was a co-sponsor of a campus carry bill Birdwell filed in 2013, when Paxton was a Republican state senator from McKinney. That bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

Amid some calls to declare dorms gun-free zones, Birdwell asked Paxton to clarify SB 11’s requirements, arguing that the law only allows presidents to regulate how guns must be stored in college-run living quarters.

In addition, Birdwell asked Paxton if campuses can temporarily ban concealed guns, for example during finals week, and if a licensed gun owner has standing to sue if they believe colleges and school officials have enacted gun bans that aren’t allowed under SB 11.

Attorney general opinions are nonbinding interpretations of law by agency attorneys. Paxton’s office has 180 days to issue an opinion, but Birdwell requested a quicker response, noting that public universities have begun forming rules on campus carry.

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