Campus carry: new policy continues old dialogue

Riley Beckwith, Staff Writer

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The University of Dallas has officially adopted a policy that prohibits weapons on campus, including those normally carried by people with a concealed handgun license (CHL).

This policy exempts UD from Texas Senate Bill 11 (SB 11), passed last June, which permits CHL-approved firearms at all public universities and colleges in the state of Texas.

Private universities such as UD were allowed to opt out of the law, but only after surveying students, faculty and staff over the issue.

Many schools, including Baylor University, Southern Methodist University (SMU), Rice University and Texas Christian University (TCU), have chosen to continue banning weapons on their campuses, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The Dallas Morning News also reported that public universities have seen much debate over the campus carry law, with the University of Texas at Austin experiencing the fiercest protests.

From the very beginning, UD President Thomas Keefe seemed against implementing the law.

“Having guns indiscriminately spread on campus,” Keefe said, would make ensuring student safety much more difficult.

The administration conducted surveys throughout the fall semester in accordance with SB 11.

The students surveyed were sharply divided on the issue, with 44.40 percent of students in favor and 48.88 percent against allowing campus carry.

Student responses were overwhelmingly well written and thoughtful, Dr. John Plotts, Senior Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services, said.

Faculty respondents were largely against campus carry.

Staff opinions varied more widely, with most coming down somewhere in the middle.

In an email sent to all students over spring break, Keefe said the decision to keep concealed carry off campus represents the university community’s thoughtful discourse on the issue.

The policy will apply to all students, faculty and staff, as well as any visitors or guests to the university who are not active police or military personnel.

The policy also applies to any public UD sponsored event, whether or not it expressly takes place on university property.

Anyone with a CHL will be permitted to keep their firearms in their own private vehicles on campus, if so desired.

Additionally, Tower Village is not subject to the university policy, although residents may still be subject to the weapons policies in their leases.

While the administration made their final decisions, Student Government, headed by President Joey Kelly, planned to hold a Town Hall on the issue.

They did not know that the administration would announce its decision before the event could take place.

Kelly chose to retain the event in the belief that there is still much to be discussed regarding the policy and its implications for the student body.

“The only thing that disappointed me was the student turnout,” Kelly wrote in an email. “I think we had about 100 students in the gym but I was hoping to have 200 to 300.”

The Town Hall commenced March 15 in the Maher Athletic Center, with several notable guest speakers in attendance.

Dr. Pete Blair, Associate Professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Texas State University, is a leading expert in field of active shooter events.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, a former congressman and National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) Executive Director and Vice Chairmen of the Board of Directors, spoke to students about the importance of prioritizing their physical safety.

“Your most important human right is your personal protection,” Lt. Col. West said.

He told students that they must work with the administration to ensure that the university will take charge of protecting that human right, in order to mitigate the effects of the new policy.

“They have now assumed that responsibility [of protecting the human right to personal protection],” Lt. Col. West said of the administration.

While reflecting upon Lt. Col. West’s commentary several days later, Plotts noted that the law is poorly written if meant to protect the right to human life.

“Only those who are 21 and older apparently have the human right to protect themselves,” Plotts said, referencing the fact that Texas CHLs generally require that the owner be at least 21 years old.

Additionally, many UD students are not from the state of Texas and thus would be ineligible for a CHL.

Plotts also does not accept the idea that the university could ever abdicate their responsibility for the safety of their students via a gun policy, especially one that is only a reiteration of the university’s weapons policy in light of SB 11.

“I’ve always felt responsible for students’ safety, whether there were firearms or not,” Plotts said.

The administration does agree with Lt. Col. West on the necessity of looking into further security measures on campus.

Keefe has assigned a task force to review and potentially modify UD’s emergency response plan before the start of the fall 2016 semester.

This committee will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of all current procedures, such as earthquake and fire drills.

It will also seek to implement guidelines in the case of an active shooting event — guidelines that Plotts does not believe currently exist.

“We have the communication system … but I’m not sure we all know what to do,” Plotts said.

Administrators are also currently examining the logistics of either arming Campus Security Officers (CSO) or bringing Irving police officers on campus.

Regardless of what further changes occur regarding UD security, the students have proven themselves worthy of being an active part of the conversation.

“I came away thinking … I’d love to do more dialogue like this with the students,” Plotts said after the Town Hall.  “We took a difficult topic, with differing opinions, we had a civil discussion and I was enlightened, not only by the speakers but by the student questions.”

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