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AUSTIN (AP) – Forced by state lawmakers to allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into classrooms, dorms and other buildings, the University of Texas is trying to figure out where the weapons might still be banned.
The 50,000-student flagship campus of the University of Texas System hosted the first of two public forums Wednesday night to get input from advocates for gun rights and gun control as school officials study how to comply with a state law that takes effect next August.
About 150 people showed up for the one-hour event. By a large margin, most speakers favored the sharpest limits possible as students, faculty and parents said they are worried about potential violence.
“My son is here to learn and grow. He’s here to worry about grades, and worry about girls. He should not have to worry about whether the person sitting next to him or living next to him in the dorm has a gun,” said Christina Adams, the parent of a Texas student and wife a faculty member. “I’m terrified for my child. I’m terrified for my husband.”
But one Texas law school student and concealed handgun license holder urged her not to be afraid of him.
“We are not the bad guys you read about in the news,” said Justin Stone. “We are not vigilantes. Please continue to have faith in the law-abiding citizen.”
Despite fierce resistance from several colleges, most notably the University of Texas, lawmakers voted last spring to lift an outright ban on so-called campus carry of concealed handguns at public universities.
But lawmakers agreed to allow each campus to carve out “reasonable” gun-free zones, provided they don’t effectively ban guns entirely or even from most of campus. Private universities are allowed to opt out altogether.
New University of Texas President Greg Fenves appointed a working group to gather input from students, faculty and the public. Whatever gun restrictions schools develop must still be approved by each university’s governing board.
The campus carry measure was passed by the state’s strong Republican majority. Supporters call it a personal safety and constitutional rights issue. Gun control activists said guns will lead to more campus violence and stifle free speech, with worries of accidental shootings and student suicides among the chief concerns.
“Introducing guns into the classroom undercuts open scholarship,” said graduate student John Brandt, one of speakers who wore a bright orange shirt with the slogan “Gun Free UT.” “Classrooms should be treated as a sanctuary.”
Religion professor Steven Friesen said his students often engage in highly charged discussions that challenge deeply held views, such as whether certain stories in the Bible really happened. Introducing a gun into that environment could be dangerous, he said.
“This is the one issue that’s made me wonder whether I should stay here or not,” Friesen said.
Madison Yandell, a student and president of College Republicans of Texas, said campus carry is an important self-defense measure.
“Campus carry would allow me to have the knowledge that I can protect myself walking to and from campus, especially in high-crime areas,” she said.
Texas has another panel scheduled for Monday.
Steve Goode, chairman of the working group and a Texas law professor, said the panel had already received more than 2,500 submitted comments.
The law keeps the present ban on guns at school sporting events and allows colleges to set rules for storage in dorms. It only applies to concealed handgun license holders, who must be at least 21 and pass training and shooting courses, although those requirements have been loosened in recent years.
Texas has more than 850,000 license holders, but University of Texas officials estimate less than 1 percent of its student body has licenses.
“We will not have massive numbers of students with concealed handguns on campus,” Goode said.
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