GRANBURY, Texas (CN) - Texas public universities cannot ban guns from dormitories due to the state's new campus carry law, Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday.
Paxton cited Senate Bill 11 in a nonbinding advisory opinion . S.B. 11 forbids public universities from banning concealed license-holders from carrying handguns on campus. Signed into law in June, S.B. 11 goes into effect for public and private four-year colleges and universities on Aug. 1, 2016 and junior colleges on Aug. 1, 2017.
The law allows exemptions in "limited circumstances," but Paxton says a dormitory ban goes too far.
"If an institution placed a prohibition on handguns in the institution's residential facilities, however, it would effectively prohibit license holders in those facilities from carry concealed handguns on campus, in violation of S.B. 11," the 6-page opinion states. "This is because 'rules, regulations or other provisions concerning the storage of handguns in dormitories' presupposes their presence in dormitories."
Paxton's opinion was in response to a Nov. 18 letter by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who cited concerns about some colleges considering banning handguns in some or all dormitories or other college-owned student housing.
Students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in particular have staunchly protested against campus carry in the months since S.B. 11's passage. A task force recommended to the school's leaders this month to ban guns in dormitories due to the "unacceptably high" risk of theft or misuse by roommates.
UT-Austin said in a statement Monday evening that President Greg Fenves is "reviewing all relevant information as he studies how to implement S.B. 11 safely and lawfully on our campus."
Paxton stated that public colleges cannot ban guns from a "meaningful number" of classrooms.
"S.B. 11 does not expressly address the extent to which the carrying of concealed handguns can be regulated specifically within classrooms," the letter states. "If an institution prohibited the carrying of concealed handguns in a substantial number of classrooms, a court would likely conclude that the effect would be to 'generally prohibit' license holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus, contrary to the Legislature's express requirements."
Paxton concluded that public school leaders cannot leave it to professors to determine whether to allow guns in their classrooms, that the law places authority only with school presidents or chief executive officers.
He said in a statement Monday evening that courts would likely rule against a school that "delegates to individual professors the decision" to ban guns from their classrooms.
Paxton concluded that individuals cannot sue public colleges for money damages for violating S.B. 11 due to sovereign immunity, but they can sue school leaders to force compliance.