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SB 11 goes into effect today for junior colleges across the state

August 1, 2017 GMT

McALLEN — The official kick-off of campus carry for junior colleges is today and at South Texas College the official rules and regulations developed earlier this year take effect for those wishing to carry a handgun.

Senate Bill 11, passed into law in 2015, allowing license holders to carry concealed handguns in colleges and universities across the state. Four-year universities were given an effective date of Aug. 1, 2016, while junior colleges, such as STC, were given an extra year making the law effective today.

The college formed a committee last year to propose recommendations such as permanent and temporary exclusion zones, which are allowed by the law so long as the entire campus is not restricted. But what helped the most was being able to learn from the implementation process at four-year institutions, such as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, STC President Shirley Reed said.

“We watched very closely what was taking place so that we could benefit from lessons learned,” Reed said. “It did serve us well, actually. We went through the same process they did. We held extensive open forums with faculty, staff and students, just to give us their thoughts, concerns and recommendations.”

Part of these lessons learned so far, Reed said, has given peace of mind to STC officials as no major incidents having to do with concealed handguns have been reported.

“This was put in place with very little concern,” Reed said. “I have not heard of deaths and shootings on university campuses because of this. There have been a few accidents, but that would happen with or without the law.”

Reed was presented with the proposed exclusion zones in February of this year and after considerations the college chose four areas to be permanently banning concealed handguns. These areas include Achieve Early College High School, due to its concentration of minors; the boardroom, where public meetings with government entities are held; the Mid-Valley Child Development Center, to ensure safety of children; and the Testing Center Pecan Plaza, as per contractual agreements with the testing agency.

The college is also allowed to name temporary exclusions, which in this case will only include polling locations during election season, as per state-law regulations that prohibit concealed and open carry in these premises.

Laboratories were also originally proposed due to the use of chemicals or gases that could be potentially dangerous, but Reed said that after being notified that chemicals and gases don’t remain in the premises at all times, they decided to allow concealed handguns in these areas.

“The more we talked about this the more we questioned, ‘Would that be the intent of the law?’ If the state is saying ‘You have the right to carry a concealed handgun if you are a license holder,’ why should it matter if you are in the chemistry lab or the automotive lab…?” Reed said.

Signage for the permanent gun-free zones went up on Monday, said Paul Varville, STC’s chief public safety administrator, who also led the task force committee that helped come up with the proposed locations.

As part of the preparation for the official rollout, several emails have been sent to faculty, staff and students, he said, adding more email notifications are in the process of being sent in the coming weeks.

“I’ve generated a number of general emails to all of our employees and students, letting them know that tomorrow is the first day of the campus carry law, and tell them that we have our college website where people can go and get information about the law itself, what preparations we have made, the designation of gun-free zones,” he said.

Proper training has been given to campus police, he said, and the plan is to roll out a second series of forums or informational events in September to further explain the law, answer questions and provide safety tips to all stakeholders. The dates have yet to be solidified, but email notifications will be sent out, he said.

“If anyone has a concealed handgun and a license, and if there is an active shooter situation on campus, we want to make sure that they understand that when police arrive to respond to that incident anybody who have a handgun need to put down that gun and not have it in their hands,” Varville said. “Because police won’t know who is the active shooter and who is the person who is defending against the active shooter.”

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com