Campus Carry in Spotlight After Police Officer's Death

Texas Tech student was running afoul of new law, but critics of the pro-gun policy say officers should be the only ones with firearms, legally or not.

October 11, 2017
Hollis A. Daniels

A Texas Tech University police officer was fatally shot Monday night, and a student has been arrested for the killing. The student, Hollis A. Daniels, is 19 years old and did not have his firearm registered with Texas Tech, which the university requires under the state’s campus carry law. Daniels was also likely running afoul of the law since he isn’t 21 years old, another requirement, although there are exceptions for veterans and members of the military.

Still, the slaying has renewed the debate about the controversial 2015 law that allows concealed carry permit holders to bring guns on campus, and loose gun laws in the state as a whole. Texas's campus carry law was adopted against the wishes of higher education leaders in the state, who argued that colleges are safer when police officers are the only ones armed.

On Monday afternoon, Daniels was brought into the Texas Tech police station after officers found evidence of drugs and drug paraphernalia in his dorm during a “welfare check.” During a news conference that was live-streamed by the local NBC affiliate, Texas Tech Police Chief Kyle Bonath said that officers were called to Daniels’s dorm after receiving reports of a student acting erratically and “reported to be in possession of a weapon.”

While in the police station, Daniels pulled out a gun and fatally shot an officer, Bonath said. At the brief news conference, during which Bonath and university President Lawrence Schovanec did not take questions, it was not addressed how Daniels was able to bring a gun inside the police station, or why he wasn’t handcuffed -- questions being raised by many in Texas. After the shooting, Daniels fled the scene and the university went on lockdown for about an hour and 15 minutes until he was apprehended. While the university was on lockdown, the Texas Tech Student Counseling Center alerted authorities that Daniels’s family had called to report the student might be in possession of a weapon and having suicidal thoughts.

Daniels has been in the custody of the Lubbock, Tex., police department since Monday night on a murder charge, and classes continued as usual Tuesday. Campus vigils for the officer, identified Tuesday as Floyd East Jr., were scheduled to be held Tuesday night.

Police said Daniels confessed to shooting the officer when he was apprehended.

“I want to convey to the wife of Officer East, their two daughters and their extended family our heartfelt condolences, and to assure them that they are in our prayers,” Schovanec said during the news conference.

Campus Carry in Texas

Daniels was not legally permitted to have a gun in his dorm due to his age and lack of a concealed carry permit. Texas’s concealed carry law, which went into effect in August 2016, allows for the concealed carry of firearms on campuses and in most buildings for those who have a permit. The minimum age for a permit is 21, with exceptions for current members and veterans of the military.

Universities can put some regulations in place regarding campus carry, including ones regarding dorms. Texas Tech spokesman Chris Cook said that Talkington Hall, where Daniels lived, was one of the four dorms where campus carry is permitted, although gun owners are required to register their firearms with the university, which Daniels didn’t do.

The laws do, however, open up campuses to more firearms being carried legally, leading some gun-control advocates to cite the shooting as a reason to speak out against campus carry and more permissive gun laws at large.

"The truth is, like millions of Americans, we’re frustrated,” the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement. “We’re tired of hearing ‘thoughts and prayers’ from politicians who avoid conversations about real solutions to our nation’s gun violence epidemic.”

The party originally made a post on Twitter condemning campus carry laws in the wake of the incident, but later deleted the tweet and apologized when it became clear that Daniels's possession of his firearm on campus was likely illegal. However, the Democratic Party also said that gun-control advocacy is still a critical issue. The party’s statement said that only law enforcement officials should be able to have firearms on campus, and “sensible gun laws can do something about America’s shameful gun violence.”

“We’re tired of politicians shrugging tragedy off,” the statement read. “We’re tired of seeing Americans die.”

Quinn Cox, a junior at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Southwest region director for Students for Concealed Carry, said that conversations about campus carry were irrelevant to Monday’s shooting, since Daniels was afoul of the law, having a firearm in his dorm under the circumstances he did.

“Before Aug. 1, 2016, this would be a felony,” he said. “After Aug. 1, it is still a felonious act to have an unlicensed weapon on campus, to carry a weapon on campus that’s unlicensed.”

Although the law has faced resistance -- including a lawsuit from professors at the University of Texas, Austin, which has since been dismissed by the judge -- a Houston Chronicle analysis found mixed evidence on how much campus carry has or hasn’t changed campus life.

Cox said he hasn’t noticed a change in campus climate since the law was enacted -- not even, he pointed out, during “one of the most contentious presidential races in recent memory” -- which critics feared might stifle peaceful debate among students and faculty if some of them were armed. On the other hand, The Houston Chronicle reported an instance of a professor at a public university in Texas moving office hours to a public space out of concerns of being alone with a student who might be carrying.

In the first year since the law went into effect, at least 20 Texas universities had no gun-discharge incidents or reports of intimidation with a firearm, the Chronicle’s review found. More than a dozen had at least one gun-related report, including aggravated robbery and an accidental discharge in a dorm.

Lone Star College Police Chief Paul Willingham, speaking to the Houston Chronicle, called those incidents “rare.”

Mia Carter, an associate professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin, and one of the plaintiffs in a now-dismissed lawsuit aimed to stop the campus carry law from going into effect, said that campus carry and the U.S. gun laws as a whole are intertwined.

"These kinds of preventable deaths are part of the litany of tragedies that are smaller scale than mass shootings, but part of the everyday fabric of this country’s abundant gun culture," she said in an email. "Our students and young people need support, they need readily available mental health services; they deserve safe spaces on campus and in the classroom in which they can bloom and grow, can fearlessly develop their own values and scholarly and intellectual passions."

Sue Riesling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said that the association did not see a link between campus carry and Monday's shooting.

"Regardless of whether the state or this institution had a policy one way or another, if the individual possessed a firearm, he would have been possessing it illegally," she said.

East was the 45th campus public safety officer to die on the job since 1923, according to the association's records. He was the second officer to die on the job this year, Riesling said, and there were two officers killed in 2016 as well. While cases of campus officers being killed on the job -- much less students killing campus officers -- are relatively rare, “it’s a reminder that it’s a constant possibility,” Gwen Fitzgerald, an association spokeswoman, said in an email.


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