Public universities in Texas would be breaking a new state law if they ban guns from student dormitories because such a prohibition would violate the rights of people with licenses to carry concealed handguns, the state's attorney general said.
Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton issued his nonbinding legal opinion late on Monday after an advisory panel convened by the University of Texas system, one of the nation's largest with more than 214,000 students, recommended on Dec. 10 largely banning guns from dormitories.
A series of mass shootings at U.S. colleges including one that left 10 people dead, including the student gunman, at an Oregon community college in October has heightened concerns about firearms on campus.
"If a public institution of higher education placed a prohibition on handguns in the institution's campus residential facilities, it would effectively prohibit license holders in those facilities from carrying concealed handguns on campus, in violation of the express terms of (the law)," Paxton said in his legal opinion provided to a Republican state senator.
Paxton was referring to the so-called campus-carry law, due to take effect on Aug. 1, 2016, that requires public universities in Texas to allow people age 21 and above who have concealed handgun permits to carry firearms into university facilities such as classrooms.
Paxton and other Texas Republican leaders who support the campus-carry law contend it will increase safety and prevent mass shootings on campuses.
The University of Texas advisory panel concluded that guns could not be prohibited from classrooms under the law despite opposition to the measure from faculty and students.
The law is due to take effect on the 50th anniversary of one of the deadliest U.S. gun incidents on a U.S. college campus when student named Charles Whitman killed 16 people by firing from a perch atop the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, the state's flagship public university.
University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, a retired Navy admiral who formerly led the U.S. Special Operations Command and organized the raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, has called the campus-carry law detrimental to student safety.
Private universities were allowed to opt out of the law's provisions and many have done so, labeling the measure as counter to their ideals.
Paxton pleaded not guilty in August to three felony charges of securities fraud in a case that threatens his political career.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Will Dunham)