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Two Years after Campus Carry Took Effect, Has Anything Changed?

Texas’ campus carry law was implemented in August 2016. But there’s not much critics or supporters can refer to to prove their point.


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It has been two years since Texas's campus carry law went into effect.

And it's likely to stay. Last month, a federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit by three professors at the University of Texas at Austin that argued the law stifles free speech.

So, I wanted to find out what, if any, tangible effect the law has had on college campuses since its implementation.

First, I was wondering if there's any way of knowing how many students bring guns to campus. So, I checked right here at home, with the University of Houston Police Department.

"There would be no way for us to know that because we don't ask the question," Lt. Bret Collier, acting captain for UHPD's patrol division, said.

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One indicator could be how many people leave their firearms with the campus police because they’re planning to be in what’s called an exclusion zone.

Universities designate certain zones on campus where guns are not allowed. At UH, that includes science labs, dorms, the daycare facility and sporting facilities, among others.

Collier showed me where students can surrender their guns.

"We bring out a safe. It's a small safe, thumbprint," he said. "So, they get to put their thumbprint in, put the device in the box and then we take it to the back and store it."

Between August 2016, when campus carry took effect, and last month, there have only been 31 requests to store a firearm at UHPD – never more than six in one month.

Of course, this doesn't tell us how many students overall are armed. Theoretically, all requests for storage could come from the same person.

So, I called up a student who advocates for the right to take guns to college campuses.

Quinn Cox, the southwest regional director for Students for Concealed Carry, and an accounting major at UT in Austin, wouldn't say whether or not he himself is carrying.

"That's the beauty of concealed carry," he said. "No matter where you go, it's concealed. No-one's going to know."

But Cox’s group came up with an estimate for how many Texas students carry on campus. The group used data from concealed carry licenses, for which you have to be 21 or older to qualify.

"From basically 21 to 23, the licensure rates and the carry rates there as compared to how often other people carry, and we've determined that it's a little bit above 1 percent of the student population that is licensed to carry," he said. "Now whether they carry or not, we have no way of knowing that."

Not much empirical research has been done on this topic. One that comes close is a 2011 study by four researchers at Sam Houston State University (SHSU).

It surveyed undergraduate students in different SHSU buildings to determine how many classrooms would on average contain at least one firearm.

The most conservative estimate puts that number at 18 percent of rooms.

Michael Cavanaugh, one of the researchers, who now teaches criminal justice at the University of Houston Downtown, said the results vary significantly by building.

"One of the interesting findings was that the (criminal justice) building at Sam Houston had the highest number of people that would carry," he said. "The art building would have the lowest number of people that would carry."

Cavanaugh suspects the overall numbers to be higher now that the law is actually in effect.

Either way, has there been any kind of effect on safety – negative or positive?

Not at UH, according to Collier.

"Just anecdotally, I think that the types of incidents we have with guns on or adjacent to campus are the same as the ones we had before," Collier said. "It's people that are not licensed to carry."

Cavanaugh said there have been very few incidents statewide.

"Right when the law was implemented, they had a couple of incidents," he said. "I think there was one at Tarleton State of a gun going off and then for the last two years, I mean, it's really been pretty silent."

There have been a few more minor incidents. A year ago, a License to Carry (LTC) holder accidentally discharged his gun in his Texas A&M dorm room, and in February pistols were found in women's restrooms at the University of Texas on two separate occasions.

But Hannah Shearer, an attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the lack of violent incidents doesn't tell the whole story.

"I think it's the impact of students not applying and professors not taking positions at Texas universities because they don't want to be in a situation where they have to allow guns in the classroom," she said.

Shearer also points to the high rate of suicide among college students, which guns on campus might only exacerbate, and the potential for confusion during mass shooter events as an argument against firearms on campus.

But two years after it took effect, there is little hard data to assess the impact of Texas' campus carry law.


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