By Danielle Lopez, Danielle Haberly, Danielle Vabner, Haley Cavazos
On Thursday afternoon, as classes let out and students made their way through campus, chants of “UT Gun Free” echoed through the West Mall.
More than a 100 students, faculty and parents had gathered in protest against the Texas Senate’s approval of campus carry, which will allow licensed holders to have a concealed weapon on campus. Originally organized by Gun –Free UT as a solely anti-campus carry protest, the rally featured appearances from all sides of the issue.
The bill, which passed in May, will make Texas the eighth state to allow people to carry a concealed handgun on campus and in buildings. The legislation is scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 1, 2016 which also marks the 50th anniversary of the UT tower sniper shooting.
The new legislation has been a controversial subject of discussion among many members of the UT community. Thursday’s rally was just one of many protests, forums and debates.
In an interview with CNN, UT Chancellor Bill McRaven said he can’t change the law now, but plans to implement it the best he can. He said some parts of campus will remain gun-free but that won’t prevent staff from being on edge.
“I like guns but I just don’t think having them on campus is the right place,” McRaven said. “Now, are the faculty going to be concerned about raising controversial issues for fear of somehow alienating or making mad someone with a weapon?”
Gun-Free UT, founded by radio-television-film professor Ellen Spiro, is an organization of more than 300 faculty members who oppose concealed campus carry. In early October, economics professor emeritus announced he will withdraw from his position at UT come next fall.
According to UT, officials estimate fewer than one percent of students have licenses to carry. Although there is no way to determine exactly how many students have concealed handgun licenses, the estimation is made based off of other UT demographic data.
Spiro said this law the supposed one percent would come out to about 500 students on campus with weapons. She said professors who are teaching lecture classes of 450 students don’t know if they’re going to have somebody come to campus from the other states because Texas has reciprocity laws.
“Anyone with a concealed weapon can be on campus from any state,” Spiro said. “It’s scary. There’s a lot of fear. We’re all afraid but those of us who are speaking out are doing it in spite of the fear.”
French and Italian assistant professor Paula Bonifazio, who is part of Gun-Free UT, said she was against SB-11 before its approval and now wants her voice heard.
“I’m afraid of guns so I don’t want them in my classroom,” Bonifazio said. “It’s clear it’s not just a faculty movement, its not just something of a niche — it has a very wide response from staff from students.”
Government sophomore Allison Peregory, chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas, created Texas Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. She said in an interview with CNN concealed carry on UT campus is not a radical new concept — for the past 20 years, UT has allowed concealed handguns on school grounds just not inside buildings.
“I don’t think UT will suddenly become the ‘Wild West’ with open carry and guns flying,” Peregory said. “Knowing that you can make that decision [to carry a weapon] and you can make that for your own personal liberty and self defense is an empowering decision.”
Nursing senior Malcolm Mundy, who is pro-campus carry, said it’s important to be well-armed and ready in a precarious situation.
“Essentially, if you have a well-armed population, nothing will take on a bad guy better than a good gun,” Mundy said.
Anthropology senior Colin Healy said people need to listen to both sides of the story. Although he leans toward anti-campus carry sentiments, he said campus’ success in dealing with the new legislation depends on the population’s ability to listen more to each other.
“Just do your own research,” Healy said. “Don’t just believe what everyone is telling you. We have this idea that we need to have guns because the constitution said so. Well, the constitution was also used to disenfranchise people and oppress people for years so it’s not a perfect document.”