HCC passes Campus Carry policy

Alyssa Foley, News Editor

Houston Community College’s governing board approved the campus carry policy fleshing out the details of where weapons are allowed on campus.

Passed in 2015, Texas Senate Bill 11 allows handgun license holders to carry a concealed or hidden gun in particular areas on college campuses. The campus carry law went into effect for Texas public four-year institutions on Aug. 1, 2016 and it will go in on the campuses of public two-year institutions like HCC on Aug. 1 of this year.

HCC’s policy passed at the Feb. 23 board meeting with the votes of seven trustees, Adriana Tamez abstained and Zeph Capo was not present for the vote.

Now that the college’s governing board has approved it, the policy must be rubber stamped by the state’s Special Legislative Committee. Next, HCC will train employees in the policy. The college administration also plans to host open forums on the policy in March or April.

Private colleges were permitted to opt-out of campus carry. Only one private school in Texas chose to allow guns on campus: Amberton University, a small, nonprofit school for working adults based in Garland. It restricts enrollment to students 21 and older.

It’s important to note that campus carry will only allow for concealed carry by handgun license holders. A person must have a state-issued handgun license to carry a firearm on campus and be ready to show their license at the request of campus police.

A person is eligible to apply to the state for a handgun license if they are over the age of 21; have never been convicted of a felony; have not been convicted of a Class A or Class B misdemeanor in the past five years; and is fully qualified under federal and state law to purchase a handgun, among other requirements. Applicants must also pass a state gun-safety course to obtain a license.

Until Aug. 1, no firearms are allowed at HCC. If you see anyone carrying a firearm on campus, call the HCC Police Department emergency number at 713-718-8888.

When campus carry goes into effect at HCC, the illegal use, possession or display of any handgun, firearm, illegal knife, club, or other weapons will still be illegal and prohibited. The policy requires that the HCC Police Department maintains a list of handgun-related incidents and will provide quarterly reports.

Campus Carry Controversies.

The controversy around HCC’s campus carry policy centered on dual-credit students and the trustees themselves.

By law, high school or collegiate sporting events are weapon-free zones, and so is any area where a K12 school-sponsored activity occurs.

HCC has many high school students on campus through Early College High School like Challenger on the West Loop campus. Currently, these college-high schools are segregated from the general campus area and will be designated as weapons-free zones.

However, many high school students are taking college classes at HCC by enrolling in regular courses on campus with other college students. The best campus carry does for these students is mandate that all dual credit student and their parents receive a copy of the school’s new weapon policy.

More controversial, open meeting areas like the Board of Trustees meetings will also be weapon free. HCC’s governing board approved a gun policy that affects everyone but them, but this exception comes directly from Texas penal code.

“No one in this room is more important than the students or the community members,” said Trustee Zeph Capo at the Feb. 23 meeting, “Me as an elected official shouldn’t have any more security than any of the students that we represent.” Capo believes this policy creates and maintains a different class of individuals, the trustees.

Policy Being Finalized.

Additional weapon-free zones must be requested through the College Security Committee and must adhere to established criteria.

Areas that can be designated as weapon free under the policy include buildings used exclusively for daycare or child care centers, like the Child Development Lab School at the Central campus; health care facilities used for patient care like at the Colman campus; counseling and mental health service areas; and laboratory areas where dangerous materials and equipment or research animals are present. Also, designated conference areas used for discussion of grievances or disciplinary hearings or meetings can also be designated as weapon-free.

Addressing the trustees, United Student Council President Josue Rodriguez noted that “it is imperative to keep students’ interests in mind as we finalize the HCC campus carry policy.”

In April 2016, HCC’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution stating their collective opposition to having firearms on campus. The resolution also asked the chancellor to develop compensated training for both legal conceal carry gun licensees and faculty and staff regarding both de-escalation of potentially stressful situations and appropriate expectations of behaviors in classroom situations.

Trustee John Hansen said that while he is unhappy with Texas the campus carry bill, the college has no choice but to follow the law. “There really is no serious choice on our part, except to adopt the policy as originally proposed in compliance with state law.”

Echoing this sediment, Trustee Robert Glaser said that the safety of students is paramount. “I would say that most people at the table here don’t want guns on campus, but we really have no choice.”