Rice University will continue to prohibit all weapons on campus, opting out of a new state law allowing handgun concealed carry on college campuses, President David Leebron announced Monday.
Texas Senate Bill 11, which was passed by the state legislature in May, legalized concealed carry in colleges throughout the state, but contained a provision allowing private universities to opt out after consultation with students, staff and faculty. Rice must post signs at its entrances explicitly prohibiting weapons, according to the legislation.
According to Leebron, Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby headed the working group in the consultation process. The group gathered input from the Student Association, Graduate Student Association, Staff Advisory Committee and Faculty Senate.
According to the final report of the working group, 85 percent of the 544 responses to the SA survey of undergraduates were in favor of opting out, as were 82 percent of the 530 responses to the GSA graduate survey. 83 percent of the 178 staff polled and 95 percent of the 138 comments to the Faculty Senate also advocated opting out. Leebron said there were several reasons for the decision to continue weapon prohibition.
“One was the overwhelming reaction from every constituency,” Leebron said. “We had numerical totals of 82 to 95 percent in every constituency we had. Second was the people who would be closest to dealing with issues arising from having weapons on campus – that is, the police and the mental health professionals – they opposed it. And third is, frankly, not seeing a good argument to have guns on campus.”
One argument some expressed in favor of concealed carry was the possibility of an armed citizen using a concealed weapon to fight a hostile shooter on campus.
One student criticized Rice’s current policy in his anonymous SA survey response.
“This school’s weapon policy is ridiculous and does more harm than good,” the student said. “I don’t trust RUPD to respond quickly to a serious threat and I’d feel much safer knowing that students are allowed to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. I believe many school shootings in this country could have been stopped or may not have happened at all had the student body been authorized to carry.”
However, Leebron said the possible positive use of weapons to stop an active shooter is overshadowed by negative effects.
“The role of having random guns on campus if there’s an active shooter is disputed, particularly by the people who are most concerned about it, the police,” Leebron said.
In addition to campus police organizations, the Texas University and College Counseling Directors Association, which includes Rice, opposed concealed carry. The association wrote an open letter opposing S.B. 11 in April, which Timothy Baumgartner, the director of Rice’s Counseling Center, said was representative of the opinion of Rice counseling staff.
“If factors such as alcohol and other substances, unfamiliar environments, social conflicts mixed with strong emotions and the absence of supportive familial relationships are considered, ready access to a firearm may prove lethal,” the letter said.
Many of the students who responded to the SA survey agreed concealed carry would increase the risk of dangerous incidents.
“Campus carry should not be allowed at Rice University, a haven of higher learning,” one student said. “Considering the shooting incidents that have happened at other college campuses and the rates of consumption of drugs and alcohol on college campuses, I am outraged that Texas would even consider passing a bill such as this one.”
Leebron said the opt-out provision of the law was appreciated.
“We’re happy when we have leeway to adopt policies that we think are appropriate and serve the interests of Rice University,” Leebron said. “For us, that’s a national and international interest. It was pretty clear from the information we received that [concealed carry] would be a disadvantage in our competitive position around the world.”
Leebron said Rice’s response to the passage of S.B. 11 was similar to the rejection of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, a proposal prohibiting discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, in Houston’s November election.
“I and the university were disappointed by the outcome of the [HERO] vote,” Leebron said. “That said, Rice University will continue to be a place that is fully inclusive of its GLBT students. In both [HERO and S.B. 11], we were given as a private institution the opportunity to adopt the policies that we think are most appropriate for Rice.”
Leebron said he regretted the fact that public universities in Texas cannot opt out of allowing concealed carry. Debate regarding the law has taken place at universities across the state, including a high-profile student protest at the University of Texas, Austin.
“We’re sympathetic to the situation of our fellow public universities, who do not have the ability to opt out,” Leebron said.