Day: <span>November 4, 2015</span>

Mission impossible: making the campus gun law “reasonable”


It would be impossible to identify the absolute worst law to emerge from last spring’s legislative session, but undoubtedly one of the worst was the law to allow guns on college campuses. Although it is now the law of the state, it is still being debated as fiercely as it was when it was still just a bad idea.

That’s because the law won’t go into actual practice until next fall, when people who are licensed to carry concealed handguns will be able to carry them into buildings at state-supported universities. License holders have to be at least 21, which fortunately will exclude many students. And, private universities can exempt their entire campuses from the requirement.

The debate is now centered around how individual universities should deal with a provision – added to the law as a “compromise” — allowing officials at public universities to designate “reasonable” gun-free zones on their individual campuses.

Much of this debate revolves around whether the law will allow classrooms to continue to be gun-free. Based on what I have read, most faculty members – probably the overwhelming majority – simply don’t want guns in their classes, period, and I don’t blame them. The Texas Faculty Association fought against the law during the legislative session.

University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, the retired admiral who directed the raid to kill terrorist Osama bin Laden, also opposed the measure. He told legislative leaders the campus carry law would make universities less-safe.

The argument by proponents that the new law will help make classrooms safer because armed students could defend themselves and their classmates against armed assailants isn’t convincing. There may be an occasional, lucky exception, but most students with handguns would be no match against a surprise attack from a crazed, rapid-firing intruder intent on creating mayhem.

In the terror and confusion of such an assault, a student with a gun is more likely to shoot a fellow classmate or other innocent bystander or be shot by mistake by a police officer ready to fire at anyone with a gun and ask questions later.

Those arguments, of course, were ignored by most legislators. Rep. John Zerwas, the Republican chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, at least offered the provision for “reasonable” gun-free zones. But what is a reasonable definition of “reasonable”?

No guns in any classroom sounds reasonable to me, but not to Zerwas.

He told The Dallas Morning News that he would have trouble with a prohibition on guns in all classes but could understand how some classes “may not be a comfortable setting” with armed students. He didn’t say which ones, but he may have meant classes that encourage highly charged emotional debate or labs with volatile chemicals.

Trying to add a bit of “reasonableness” to an unreasonable, bad law isn’t easy, and most likely the issue, as the newspaper article suggests, will end up in court before it is finally resolved.