The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of UT-Austin’s Campus Carry Recommendations

by concealed campus on December 11, 2015

AUSTIN, TX – The final report of the campus carry policy working group at the University of Texas at Austin will go down in history as simultaneously featuring some of the finest research on the subject of licensed concealed carry on college campuses and offering two of the most poorly conceived recommendations concerning the same. Although the report’s factual research demonstrates the wisdom of placing professional academics in charge of researching an important sociopolitical issue, the report’s recommendations demonstrate the impracticality of tasking those same academics with formulating policies regarding the appropriate utilization of firearms for self-defense.

The working group recommends that “[the] occupant of an office to which he or she has been solely assigned and that is not generally open to the public should be permitted, at the occupant’s discretion, to prohibit the concealed carry of a handgun in that office” and that “if the occupant’s duties ordinarily entail meeting people who may be license holders, the occupant must make reasonable arrangements to meet them in another location at a convenient time.” This recommendation, which is clearly tailored to suit the needs of professors meeting with students during posted office hours, creates two distinct problems. The first and least of these problems is that it places any student with a concealed handgun license (“conceal” is defined, in part, as “to keep secret; to prevent or avoid disclosing or divulging”) in the uncomfortable position of potentially having to inform a professor—a professor who, by declaring his or her office “gun-free,” has publicly announced his or her opposition to campus carry—that the student regularly carries a gun to class. The second and much more serious problem is that it renders many faculty, staff, and students unable to carry a concealed handgun on campus at all (potentially conflicting with both the letter and intent of Texas Senate Bill 11, which states that a university’s campus carry policy may not “have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus of the institution”).

Half of the individuals (and likely a majority of the CHL holders) on the UT-Austin campus are faculty, staff, graduate research assistants, or graduate teaching assistants. The duties of a faculty member, staff member, research assistant, or teaching assistant may require entering one or more private offices multiple times each day. Given that the working group’s recommended polices would also dictate that “[license] holders who carry a handgun on campus must carry it on or about their person at all times or secure their handgun in a locked, privately-owned or leased motor vehicle,” any faculty member, staff member, research assistant, or teaching assistant required to enter a “gun-free” office in the course of his or her duties would be unable to carry a concealed handgun on campus. Because many in the UT-Austin community rely on the university’s bus route to get to campus and because even those who drive to campus are often required to park a mile or more away and catch a bus to the office, few license holders working on campus would have the option of running to their cars to drop off their handguns between meetings.

Are these licensed faculty, staff, researchers, and teaching assistants expected to inform the occupant of a “gun-free” office—an occupant who, based on the fact that he or she has a private office, is very possibly the license holder’s superior—that standard operating procedures must be changed so that the license holder never has to enter the office? Or are these license holders expected to forgo their newly legislated right to have their preferred measure of self-defense on campus?

The working group also makes a couple of recommendations about how concealed handguns should be carried on campus. The first recommendation is that “[handguns] – including those carried in backpacks and handbags – must be carried in a holster that completely covers the trigger and the entire trigger guard area. The holster must have sufficient tension or grip on the handgun to retain it in the holster even when subjected to unexpected jostling.” This recommendation aligns with the generally accepted best practices for concealed carry; therefore, no rational person can argue that such a policy is not “reasonable,” per the statutory requirement of Senate Bill 11. However, the working group also recommends that “[semiautomatic] handguns must be carried without a chambered round of ammunition.” This recommendation contradicts the generally accepted best practice for concealed (or open) carry. More specifically, it contradicts the method of carry taught by every shooting school, police academy, and military branch in the U.S. There is no way that this policy can be considered “reasonable” under any common definition of that term.

The reason all U.S. firearms instructors teach that semiautomatic handguns should be carried with a loaded chamber is that the number one factor in determining the outcome of a defensive shooting is the defensive shooter’s ability to quickly and efficiently present his or her weapon to the target. In the context of daily carry (as opposed to a SWAT team breaking down the door of a meth lab, with their guns at the ready), this means presentation from the holster.

A review of training manuals or YouTube videos (search “presentation from the holster”) reveals slight variations in presentation technique (draw stroke) but few, if any, techniques in which the shooter draws the weapon and then chambers a round. It’s generally accepted that—in the context of self-defense shootings, which typically happen at close range—one’s ability to quickly and cleanly present from the holster is more important than even one’s aim. Being forced to draw one’s weapon and then load the first round (a procedure that typically takes both hands) is a serious impediment to being able to quickly and cleanly present to the target. Chambering a round in the heat of battle also denies the defensive shooter an opportunity to perform a chamber check—a safety check typically performed when loading a firearm. At close contact (any distance close enough for an assailant to grab the defender’s gun), having an empty chamber can essentially render the defender’s handgun useless.

In the context of campus carry, being forced to draw one’s weapon and then chamber a round (load the chamber) forces anyone who has received any level of U.S. firearms training to completely retrain himself or herself. That means that even those CHL holders with law enforcement or military training—the people college administrators should feel most comfortable having armed on campus—will be forced to completely relearn how to perform the most critical action involved in using a handgun defensively. Texas universities should enact policies designed to help license holders perform to the peak of their abilities, not policies that turn even the most experienced shooters into neophytes.

Because most license holders would not want to carry with an empty chamber all of the time, this policy would force them to try to master (and regularly practice) two different techniques—one for on-campus carry and one for off-campus carry. Furthermore, using one technique on campus and another off campus would result in many license holders choosing to transition their weapons while in their cars parked on campus—unloading the chamber after arriving on campus and reloading it before leaving campus. From a safety standpoint, encouraging license holders to unholster and manipulate their firearms is the surest way to guarantee an eventual accidental/negligent discharge. And given that Texas law already dictates that colleges (both public and private) “may not adopt or enforce any rule, regulation, or other provision or take any other action…prohibiting or placing restrictions [emphasis added] on the storage or transportation of a firearm or ammunition in a locked, privately owned or leased motor vehicle by a person, including a student enrolled at that institution, who holds a license to carry a concealed handgun,” it’s doubtful that anything in UT-Austin’s campus carry policy can prohibit a license holder from chambering or unchambering rounds in his or her parked car.

From the standpoint of both the legislative intent of Texas Senate Bill 11 and the generally accepted best practices for defensive firearm use, these two recommendations of UT-Austin’s campus carry policy working group fail to pass muster. They are not only bad; they are discriminatory (against those who work on campus) and dangerous (for any license holder who might actually need to utilize his or her handgun in self-defense and for anyone parked near or walking past a license holder’s car). If UT-Austin President Gregory Fenves wishes to act responsibly, he will reject these two recommendations. If he does not, the policies will almost certainly face legal challenges—challenges likely to succeed and likely to cost the university significant time and money.

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