Amid a spate of shootings across the country in 2015, including several at colleges, many states now are pushing legislation to allow concealed weapons to be carried on campuses so that students and faculty can defend themselves.
It’s the latest instance of both gun control and pro-Second Amendment supporters taking their fight away from Capitol Hill, where action on firearms is stalled, and to the states, where lawmakers are feverishly debating and writing new policies.
The most high-profile example is Texas, where lawmakers passed a bill that will allow people to carry guns on public university campuses starting Aug. 1, 2016, with some exceptions and carve-outs.
“Texas was a big victory for us this year,” said Michael Newburn, a spokesman for the group Students for Concealed Carry.
More than a dozen states saw bills introduced to allow for concealed weapons on public school campuses. Texas was the only state to adopt the policy, and the issue is still pending in Ohio.
California, however, pushed the other way. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to ban concealed weapons at elementary, secondary and college campuses.
Andy Pelosi, a spokesman for the group Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus, said while his side succeeded in heading off most of the efforts, they don’t think they’ve won the issue by any means.
“I think our side had a very successful year defeating legislation, but we know that these victories tend to be temporary, as the gun lobby will and does refile bills in most of these states,” Mr. Pelosi said.
The shooting spree that killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in October drew increased attention to the issue, as did campus shooting incidents in Arizona and Texas.
But Larry Arnold, director of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association, says momentum on the issue actually started picking up in the wake of the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, when people raced to figure out the best way to protect school campuses from such massacres.
“After that, we really started to see the K-12 schools looking at it,” Mr. Arnold said. “We have at least 70 school districts that have teacher carry one way or the other.”
The campus carry law in Texas is still in an ongoing process, as universities have the ability to approve exceptions and carve-outs that could complicate matters. Rice University and Texas Christian University are two of the private schools that already have opted out.
“It’s a big muddle right now — everybody’s hyperventilating,” Mr. Arnold said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did issue a recent opinion saying that a court would likely find a university in violation of the law if it prohibits concealed carry in a “substantial number” of classrooms or delegates the decision on concealed carry to individual professors.
Mr. Paxton’s opinion also said schools that ban handguns in dorms would “effectively prohibit” licensed holders in those facilities from carrying, in violation of the law.
The state Democratic Party said universities should challenge Mr. Paxton’s opinion.
“A broad coalition of law enforcement officers, faculty, parents and students agree that Texas universities should not allow guns on their campuses, in dorm rooms and especially in classrooms,” said Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “Put simply: Campus carry does not make our schools any safer — it creates more problems than solutions.”
But a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from earlier this year found that while 37 percent of voters were against campus carry, 25 percent said they would allow handguns anywhere on campus and another 26 percent said they would allow them if the schools determined where they would be allowed.
The Aug. 1, 2016, effective date of the law has attracted some attention: It’s the 50th anniversary of when Charles Whitman scaled a clock tower at the University of Texas and killed more than a dozen people in one of the country’s most infamous mass shooting incidents.
Mr. Arnold said civilians carrying firearms back then prevented what could have been a worse outcome.
“He was very limited in the targets that he could seek because there were people, civilians on the ground, shooting back,” he said.