In a stunning move, University of Texas Regents openly defied the Texas Legislature and Attorney General Ken Paxton as they deliberated university rules regarding campus carry on Wednesday.
In debating changes to UT-Austin’s campus carry policy which will go into effect in less than three weeks, university regents voted to reject a proposal by University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall to permit concealed carry in professor offices and dormitories on campus.
Hall was supported by fellow regent Brenda Pejovich, but every other regent voted against him – including all three of Gov. Abbott’s appointees, Sara Martinez-Tucker, David Beck, and Steve Hicks.
Hicks and Martinez-Tucker also unsuccessfully attempted to ban concealed carriers from having their weapons chambered on campus.
Though lawmakers technically gave university regents the final say on concealed carry regulations on their respective campuses, it wasn’t anything akin to a blank check. Instead, state law specifically prohibited them from “establish[ing] provisions that generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus of the institution.”
After being questioned about the meaning of the law by State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano), bill author Brian Birdwell (R-Waco) said the legislation was designed to allow regents to have “very specific discretion on very unique physical plant items within those universities’ campuses.”
“Great example would be that National Biocontainment Lab at UTMB in Galveston,” said Birdwell.
Asked by Taylor if universities could prohibit concealed carry in dormitories across the board, Birdwell answered in the negative.
“That would not be okay,” said Birdwell. “We give the universities the ability to determine weapon storage policies in dormitories. But to specifically preclude them, no, unless there’s something very unique to that dormitory like a biocontainment lab within the dormitory.”
When universities began taking up the concealed carry regulations, Birdwell requested an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on the issue.
“It has been reported in the public media that some public Colleges are considering prohibiting the possession of handguns in some or all dormitories and/or other College-owned or leased residential housing,” wrote Birdwell. “This would appear to violate the express language of the Act that limits regulatory authority to those pertaining to “storage” of handgun in such locations.”
Paxton agreed, noting that such a prohibition would “effectively prohibit license holders in those facilities from carrying concealed handguns on campus, in violation of S.B. 11.”
Students for Concealed Carry warned regents throughout the rule formation process that restrictive regulations would be unconstitutional and lead to lawsuits. After the vote, Antonia Okafor, a regional director for the organization, took the university to task, calling for both judicial and legislative action.
“Now that the University of Texas System has refused to follow the letter and intent of Texas’ campus carry law, licensed students, faculty, and staff must turn to the courts for enforcement and to the Legislature for a page-one rewrite to strip university presidents of this measure of discretion with which they clearly cannot be trusted,” said Okafor.