By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Southern Methodist University, one of the top private colleges in Texas, on Friday said it would opt out of state law due to go into effect next year that allows people with licenses for concealed handguns to bring them on campus.
SMU students, faculty and staff by a wide margin said they wanted to keep the campus in Dallas weapons free, University President R. Gerald Turner said in a statement, which heavily weighed into his and the Board of Trustees' decision not to participate in the so-called "campus carry" law.
"The results were overwhelmingly in favor of SMU remaining weapons free when the law goes into effect," he said in a statement.
But public universities will be required to allow concealed handgun permit holders 21 and over to carry handguns when the law takes effect on Aug. 1, 2016. This falls on the 50th anniversary of one of the deadliest U.S. gun incidents on a campus when Charles Whitman killed 16 people by firing from a perch atop the University of Texas at Austin campus' clock tower.
Private universities have been allowed to opt out and many of the biggest-named schools in the state have done so including Rice University and Texas Christian University.
Critics have said it would be dangerous to have professors discussing grades with pistol-packing students, and that college youths and firearms could make for a deadly combination.
Supporters of the law enacted by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature have said that schools would be safer by having more guns in more places, with the firearms held by those who have gone through the requirements needed for a concealed handgun permit.
A University of Texas advisory committee said it faced widespread opposition to campus carry but has reluctantly recommended allowing handguns in classrooms when the law goes into effect, saying last week it cannot bar the firearms under the state measure.
The University of Texas system is one of the nation's largest with an enrollment of more than 214,000.
Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said the law could prevent mass shootings because someone with a licensed concealed weapon could be on campus ready to confront a potential gunman.
Eight states now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state laws.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Diane Craft)