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One year later, campus carry brings no apparent change to UNT

Profile image for Bianca Mujica and Devin Rardin
Bianca Mujica and Devin Rardin, North Texas Daily

The beginning of the 2017 fall semester marked one year since campus carry took effect in public universities across Texas. According to the University of North Texas Police Department, the law has not changed the campus environment in any significant way.

"We have had no incidents since the law passed or since the law went into effect of criminal acts by license-to-carry holders," UNT Police Chief Ed Reynolds said. "We have had cases that involved weapons on campus, but the individuals that were carrying were not license-to-carry holders."

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, Senate Bill 11, in June 2015 and it took effect in August 2016. While it allows licensed holders to carry concealed handguns on public university campuses, each institution created its own implementation process and policy. UNT gathered a task force of 23 people, including Reynolds, to review the bill then present a draft policy to UNT President Neal Smatresk.

UNT's official campus carry policy includes prohibiting concealed handguns in places of religious worship, polling locations on the day of elections, labs with biological hazards, locations that serve minors or hold events with at least 200 people, medical facilities and sporting events. Open carry is not allowed, and concealed carriers must have their license present at all times.

Anyone applying for a license to carry (LTC) must meet certain requirements, such as being at least 21 years old unless they are on active military duty, being a legal resident six months prior to the application, having never been convicted of a felony, and having no Class A or B misdemeanor convictions in the five years prior to the application. Applicants have to pass a state-mandated four-hour class, 25-question written test and state-administered background check and must get fingerprinted before getting a license.

Bill Anderson, owner of local gun store Call to Arms, offers a course at his store that covers the material mandated by the state. He rarely carries and said people who think it is necessary are "misinformed."

"You probably will never have to use a gun, but we get a license to prepare," Anderson said. "It's not about whether you carry a gun or not. It's about you making your decisions. I completely support your decision not to carry a gun just as I would support your decision to carry a firearm."

Before last year's general election, he had a class every other Saturday that reached capacity weeks in advance. Now he does one class a month with 10 to 12 people at a time. His customers are rarely college students and overall interest has declined. However, he does not believe the law makes UNT any safer.

"Is the campus safer or is it just less likely an idiot with harmful intentions will act?" Anderson said. "I think it has less to do with it being safer and more to do with it being a deterrent to crime."

Anderson said the likelihood, no matter how small, is still there and a gun is more dangerous if the holder cannot use it properly.

"Practice should be a regular, continuous, ongoing effort," Anderson said. "I tell them that for their own protection."

A Twitter poll conducted by the North Texas Daily asked for opinions on the law. Of the 166 respondents, 22 percent were in favor, 60 percent were opposed and 18 percent were indifferent.

Reynolds said the main comment the task force heard was on the law itself and not the specifics of UNT's policy.

"People were uneasy about this change, but that was far beyond our control as a committee," Reynolds said. "So what we had to do was spend a lot of time educating the university community as a whole."

He has heard "very little concerns or complaints" since the law was passed. 

Texas Woman's University Police Chief Samuel Garrison also said there has been no significant impact on that campus.

Despite the silence, some members of the community continue to be opposed.

A UNT student who's against the law, senior Jennifer Kelley, said she forgot the law was in effect and has not heard anyone discuss it recently. She personally is opposed to the law and believes the controversy is about more than just protection — it's also about how people feel knowing there might be a gun nearby.

"I don't think having guns creates a culture on campus that's safe for everyone," Kelley said. "I don't think weapons have a place on campus. It's not the sort of culture we want to promote."

UNT senior Anthony Crane, on the other hand, carries a concealed handgun on campus. He believes that everyone should keep themselves safe and that places where guns are allowed become less prone to dangerous situations.

"[Those against the law] are generally misinformed," Crane said. "When was the last time you heard of a [National Rifle Association] meeting getting shot up or a gun store getting robbed? That stuff doesn't happen because somebody is there with force to meet them."

Another student, who did not want to be identified, got his license two years ago and carries frequently. As a veteran, he thought it sensible to carry since it was a major part of his previous job.

"We're not out to hurt anyone, we just want to defend ourselves and our families," he said. "I'm not looking for trouble. Most people don't even know I have one."

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, 12,153 licenses were issued in Denton County in 2016, while 54 were suspended and 34 were revoked. Also, 38 applications were denied. Out of last year's 42,797 criminal convictions statewide, 148 of them — or 0.3 percent — were committed by license holders.

"Most individuals aren't going to go through the trouble to get the training, buy the gun and get the holster to do a criminal act," Reynolds said. "The license-to-carry holders are exceedingly law-abiding citizens."