UTRGV releases campus carry recommendations

EDINBURG — The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has released recommendations for the implementation of a law that will soon allow concealed handgun license holders to carry concealed handguns on its campuses.

If approved, gun-free zones may include athletic events and some residential areas, but concealed handguns will be allowed in classrooms.

The recommendations, made by an appointed working group, were reviewed and approved by UTRGV President Guy Bailey and will soon be presented to the UT Board of Regents for approval. The recommendations include the areas in which concealed handguns will not be allowed.

“I think we have something that follows the law and that enables us to provide safety and security on our campus,” Bailey said. “I’m not overly worried about it here for a number of reasons; many of our students are not old enough, and we also have very good students, so I trust our students.”

The suggested exclusion zones are shared residential facilities, child care facilities, patient care areas and athletic events, laboratories, watercraft, disciplinary grievance hearings, animal care areas and vivariums, camps for minors, and the mathematics and science academy in Brownsville.

Concealed weapons will be allowed in classrooms and single-resident dormitories in which there is the possibility of safe storage, the documents state.

After the passage last May of Senate Bill 11, which allows license holders to carry concealed handguns in higher education institutions in Texas, university officials took on the task of establishing regulations and limits as to where concealed handguns can be carried. The law allows for each university to set their own rules as long as they don’t prohibit concealed handguns throughout the entire campus.

The concealed carry law takes effect Aug. 1, 2016, for private and public universities and Aug. 1, 2017, for junior colleges. Open carry, which went into effect Jan. 1, is still outlawed at higher education institutions.

Ben Reyna, UTRGV’s associate vice president for security and campus affairs, was appointed to lead the 13-member workgroup — consisting of students, staff, faculty and Valley residents — that came up with the recommendations based on the law requirements and feedback gathered during public town hall meetings, emails and other conferences with stakeholders.

“We found our students, our faculty, our staff and even the external community very engaged on trying to find the best possible solution,” Reyna said. “Whether the persons were for concealed weapons or not… that certainly helped the working group in arriving at a good set of recommendations.”

One of the most talked about places that some town hall attendees wanted included as exclusion zones were classrooms, but Reyna said the working group agreed that having all classrooms excluded could infringe the law because most students attend the campus for class only.

“Since the primary on-campus activity for most UTRGV students is to attend class at one of UTRGV’s campuses, the Working Group believes prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns in classrooms would have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns on campus in contravention of the requirements of S.B. 11.,” the recommendation documents state.

The working group also recommended additional implementation measures, such as handgun training and mental health services for faculty and staff. Reyna said the need for training was an issue agreed by those for and against the new law.

“Training is going to be critical,” Reyna said. “Throughout the process we had students, faculty members and staff who provided great information specific to training. So we are looking forward to developing those training programs.”

Providing handgun storage was also discussed by the working group. The final recommendation states the risks of having public storage of guns outweighed the benefits.

“The Working Group recognizes the safety and security risks associated with transferring handguns to and from storage, particularly the increased risk of accidental discharges associated with unloading handguns for proper storage,” the recommendation documents state.

Even though the implementation of these measures is bound to cost the university money, Reyna said the working group didn’t take costs into consideration, focusing only on what they felt was necessary to move on with the implementation of the law.

The next step, he said, is to have these recommendations reviewed by the UT Board of Regents, which is set to happen sometime during the spring semester. Once the regents approve the guidelines, the work to inform, implement and enforce the new law will continue.

“Once that next step occurs, then we’ll go on to the next piece, which includes notices, policies and other things that have to be fully developed,” he said. “The plan is to try to go through this process as quickly as possible … but the institutions are given plenty of time to develop recommendations based on the uniqueness of their campus.”

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com