Real cost of campus carry significantly lower than administrators projected
Fewer than 1% of students are registered to carry guns at Texas' flagship
A month ago, public colleges and universities in Texas were preparing for the realities of a controversial new law which allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons into campus facilities. But despite much public outcry over the new law's implementation, costs and concerns about gun violence are so far dramatically lower than expected.
A report from the Dallas Morning News shows college officials projected for security adaptations to the new law to exceed $15 million in additional personnel, metal detection technology, firearm storage and other safety plans. But through the first month of the new law, campuses have spent just under $1 million, mostly on signs to designate areas prohibiting firearm possession.
“There was this vision that it was going to be like the Wild West,” said Bob Harkins, University of Texas-Austin vice president of safety and security. “And I asked the question in all of the presentations I made throughout campus: ‘how many people have you actually seen open carrying?’ When you realize that being in Walgreens or anyplace else, that the person behind you could be behind you carrying and you never see it or know about it, it creates a different perspective.”
Texas’ concealed carry law has been in effect since 1995, and Harkins says it has long served as the litmus for the potential of on-campus gun violence. Through the first two weeks of September, campus safety officials have received no reports of criminal brandishing or activity with a gun.
“The only new part to this is that you can now go into buildings. We’ve had people walking on sidewalks, driving around the perimeter of campus for more than 15 years now with concealed guns, so these figures didn’t come as a big shock to our police department,” he said.
According to a 2015 Clery Report filing, the Austin campus had zero incidents involving firearms for common crime areas of robbery and assault, but in the days leading up to the enactment of the law, the campus was ground zero for criticism of the law based on a historically tragic event which took place 50 years prior.
The campus carry law went into effect on the same day that the University of Texas commemorated the infamous 1966 ‘clock tower shooting,’ when former student Charles Whitman used rifles to kill 17 people in the nation’s first mass shooting on campus. The law’s passage drew scores of local and national protest, but supporters of the legislation say that its allowances — and restrictions — are all designed to make campuses safer.
Texas law still prohibits open carrying of a firearm and limits gun ownership to residents 21 year of age and older. According to the UT Campus Carry website, less than 1% of students at the university are registered to own a gun.
The website, which contains information on the law and video training modules for how to react in the event of a campus shooting, also offers details on the campus locations which do not allow concealed weapons to be carried, including 380 of the highest hazard of the 1800 science laboratories on campus, athletic fields and arenas, a university courtroom and areas designated as polling places for elections.
Harkins says the university has placed more than 700 signs throughout the campus to alert people about the restricted areas, an initiative that other campuses throughout the state have collectively totaled about $960,000.
At Texas Southern University, the site of four campus shootings over a six-week period in 2015, the costs for signage accounted for about $4,600 of that total, but the university has taken other measures to secure safety for students and faculty.
Officials say campus police officers have participated in training with local FBI officials to enhance policing skills, and have invested in personal transportation to ensure that officers can get to various areas of the campus faster than they normally would on foot patrols.
Lighting, social media campaigns, and the creation of a mobile app for direct police alerts have also accompanied the new safety measures. A TSU spokesperson said officials do not expect to see an increase in firearms on the campus, but that community safety would “remain its top priority” with the new measures in place.