UT Head Coach Charlie Strong arrives with his players at Royal-Memorial Stadium for the Notre Dame game on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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Herman: Why can Charlie Strong ban guns, but UT teachers can’t?

Posted October 6th, 2016

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The University of Texas has made it clear. And, in a preliminary ruling in a pending lawsuit, a federal judge has made it clear. Under the new campus carry law, UT personnel cannot ban students with handgun licenses from bringing those guns, concealed, to class.

So we are left to ponder this question posed by a lawyer representing three professors claiming they have a right to ban guns in their classrooms: Can Longhorns football coach Charlie Strong restrict where his student-athletes — if licensed to carry — can carry guns on campus?

UT says yes, he can. Let’s take a look at this reminder of the complications and intricacies of campus carry.

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Local lawyer Malcolm Greenstein, who represents the three profs who want the courts to say they can ban guns in their classrooms, lobbed this query my way:

“Why are UT professors subject to university discipline if they ban guns in their classrooms but Charlie Strong can ban his football players from owning guns?”

I asked Greenstein why he thinks Strong bans his players — including some hunters, I’d presume — from owning guns.

“I believe he announced it,” he said.

RELATED COVERAGE: Charlie Strong’s hard-line on guns is a winning combination

Indeed, Strong’s core values for his team are honesty, treat women with respect, and no drugs, stealing or guns. What does that last one mean?

John Bianco, UT assistant athletic director for media relations, told me the no-guns rule is not a ban on legal gun ownership. But there are restrictions on where players’ guns can be carried.

“Carrying a handgun and the possession of handguns is prohibited at all Longhorn sporting events,” Bianco said. “UT Athletics has the discretion to include practices, scrimmages and training sessions in that exclusion as well. Thus, if a student-athlete is licensed to own a gun, that is their right, but they cannot bring it to the football facilities or at football functions.”

UT Head Coach Charlie Strong arrives with his players at Royal-Memorial Stadium for the Notre Dame game on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT Head Coach Charlie Strong arrives with his players at Royal-Memorial Stadium for the Notre Dame game on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

So that sounds like Strong has authority to do what the three profs are in federal court trying to get the authority to do: Ban guns from the campus areas they control.

Bianco notes that Strong does not ban players with handgun licenses — and remember, you have to be 21 to have that license — from carrying concealed guns to class.

“Our staff certainly would have conversations with them and talk about it, but if that were the case, yes” a licensed player could carry to class, Bianco told me.

I don’t think a player, under the law, would have to notify the coach about carrying a gun to class. But football coaches do have some leeway in setting rules for their players, rules above and beyond what other students have to navigate.

Greenstein, eager to poke and prod about the ins and outs of campus carry, is curious about what that coach-player conversation might sound like. A conversation with your football coach can be unlike other conversations, he surmised.

“In this instance it’s where he tells them what he wants them to do and (the player) says, ‘Yes, coach,’” he said, adding, “It’s a conversation that the rest of the faculty can’t have with their students.”

Coincidentally, while Greenstein and I were mulling this question, this newspaper published an op-ed by UT profs Lisa L. Moore (one of the three profs who filed the federal lawsuit) and Matt Valentine praising Strong for his no-guns policy. Criticizing the Texas Legislature and what the profs call the “gundamentalists,” Moore and Valentine said “Strong is simple and forthright — his firearms policy, in its entirety reads ‘no guns.’”

“And whereas Texas politicians are actively encouraging students to bring weapons to school, Strong discourages guns both on campus and off,” they wrote.

I’m not sure Texas politicians are actively encouraging students to bring weapons to school. I think it’s more accurate to say they’re not banning it.

Still in search of clarity on how and where Strong can limit his players when it comes to guns, I turned to Gary Susswein, UT’s chief communications officer, who told me:

“UT’s rules require that a license holder’s handgun be ‘on or about your person’ at all times, and storage of handguns is not permitted on campus. So concealed carry is incompatible with some activities on campus such as dancing, swimming, playing basketball at Rec Sports and other activities that would require someone to become separated from their handgun — like football practice.”

Susswein also said a Q-and-A made available to UT faculty is helpful for folks “whose classes include physical or athletic activity that would make it difficult for LTC (license to carry) holders to keep their handguns concealed or ‘on their person.’”

Here’s the helpful, if wordy and lawyerly, guidance for those situations:

“If the inherent nature or requirements of the class would make the concealed carry of a handgun difficult, clearly communicate to your students the requirements of the class. For example, some active dance classes require the free movement and physical interaction that could inadvertently reveal someone who is trying to carry a concealed handgun. Encourage your students who are licensed to carry and choose to carry a handgun to think through their day and plan accordingly, which may mean leaving their handgun at home or secured in a private vehicle. It is the responsibility of the LTC permit holder to know and understand the university polices regarding campus carry.”

OK, but Greenstein, who recently took the LTC course just to see what it‘s like (he was unimpressed), still thinks Strong is getting authority over campus carry that other UT staffers don’t enjoy.

“I think he is doing something that the other faculty cannot do,” Greenstein believes.

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