Effective Aug. 1, it will be legal for students, faculty, and staff to carry concealed firearms on community college campuses in Texas. That’s not to imply that everyone is happy about it. Paris Junior College President Pamela Anglin says she would have recommended to the board of directors that the college not allow for concealed carry, if she had a choice in the matter.
Anglin, of course, does not. Like all state-funded colleges in Texas, junior or otherwise, PJC must now allow students, faculty, and staff who hold concealed handgun licenses (CHLs) or licenses to carry (LTCs) to carry concealed firearms on campus. The school can limit areas and situations where guns are permitted, but those limits need to be considered “reasonable” exceptions to state Senate Bill 11 ---- situations where large numbers of children are present, for example, or classrooms or labs housing flammable or explosive chemicals.
S.B. 11 was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2015 and went into effect for state-funded four-year colleges on Aug. 1, 2016. But questions were raised over whether the law applied to junior colleges, which often admit students under the age of 18 and provide venues for events that draw large numbers of children. Schools like PJC often host UIL-sanctioned events, ticketed concerts, and academic competitions featuring children, from elementary school through high school. The main concern, unsurprisingly, was whether to allow guns on a campus that routinely hosted children.
Last November, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement that “Nothing in S.B. 11 expressly excepts from the concealed carry authorization areas of a campus of an institution of higher education in which minors may congregate” and that the presence of minors is irrelevant. Thus, the stipulation allowing for concealed carry at community colleges was amended onto S.B. 11 and the date for mandating those institutions provide for the right to carry was set for Aug. 1, 2017.
In spring, PJC hosted three public hearings at its campuses in Greenville, Sulphur Springs, and Paris. Anglin says the meetings helped her construct the school’s policies for places and situations excepted from the rule to carry. Apart from input urging the school to keep guns out of the rooms housing dangerous or volatile chemicals, PJC has had to consider what to do about students who carry in their on-campus residences.
Anglin says students carrying in their dorm rooms will be provided safes; students who do not wish to live in a room with a gun may request another room. Anglin doesn’t anticipate much fuss, as most students in the dorms are below age 21 (the minimum age to obtain a CHL), and those over 21 are typically housed in an area removed from theunder-21 set.
For officials at PJC, the reaction to allowing guns on the campus is a mixed bag, says the school’s HR director, Paula White.
“Some [workers] feel very strongly that we should be able to carry guns if there’s an active shooter,” she says, “and then there’s going to be some that says that it can be a danger.”
White herself says she would like to know who on the campus is carrying, “if that were an option.” But according to S.B. 11, it’s not.
For Anglin, it’s not a specific fear of guns. She is a CHL holder herself, though she does not intend to carry while on campus. Rather, it’s the presence of firearms on a community college campus, where young tempers and egos are often still being sorted through by their owners. What happens, she wonders, when someone gets a bad grade and takes the criticism too personally?
And this, for Anglin, is not an academic concern. She says that once when she was a teacher, a disgruntled student increasingly seemed as if he were going to pull something from his pocket. “I thought he was going to shoot me,” she says.
The mixed feelings extend to some of the students. Dillon Butler, who’s attending summer courses at PJC, says that while he supports the rights of someone to carry, he certainly understands why people might be jittery about sitting in a classroom or living in a dorm with someone with a gun.
“I see both sides of the gun argument as valid,” Butler says. “If you can protect yourself legally from someone else then you have the right to do so. But obviously mental illness is not properly taken care of in this country and there are a lot of people who are unstable, and the vetting rules for obtaining a firearm are not very good.”
But, he says, he’s more aware of the fact that laws allowing or banning campus carry won’t stop anyone who would be the type to fire.
“Would most people do it?” he says. “No. But is that guy going to do it, regardless of the law? Probably. So, better to be able to defend yourself from him when it happens.”
Anglin says that though she is not entirely comfortable with campus carry, the law is the law and the school will abide fully. She also says that the thing to keep in mind is that those who do hold proper licenses to carry firearms
“The [person] that can legally carry on a college campus has been through the training,” she says. “They’ve taken an exam, there’s been background checks. There is that check-and-balance up front.”
PJC will review the campus carry policy over the course of the next year and make necessary amendments then, Anglin says. According to the policy statement, the school will revisit the policy in even-numbered years. PJC is still accepting input on campus carry issues at email@example.com.