By Jubenal Aguilar
The number of bills introduced in the Texas Legislature relating to concealed handguns continues to increase with each legislative session – particularly those concerning Texas public universities and colleges.
According to the Dallas County Community College District website, one of the district’s legislative priorities on the issue is to “allow a ‘local control’ option so that institutions could make a determination about whether to permit concealed handgun license holders to carry firearms on campus.”
In previous years, bills that would allow Concealed Handgun License holders to carry a handgun onto a college campus have been filed but have not gained the necessary votes to become law. However, it appears that this year a resolution may be reached.
Lawmakers from both houses filed bills HB 937 and SB 11 to the 84th Legislature on Jan. 26. According to an editorial by The Dallas Morning News, the identical bills “would expand existing law to allow students, faculty, visitors and staff to carry concealed handguns anywhere on campus, including into previously restricted places like classrooms, libraries and student unions.”
Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell, along with 18 other Republican state senators, co-authored SB 11, known as the “Campus Personal Protection Act” — a replica of Birdwell’s SB 182 filed in 2013 to the 83rd Legislature.
According to the DCCCD website, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick referred the bill to the State Affairs Committee on Jan. 28, moving it one step closer to becoming a law.
“New rule changes likely would fast-track its passage,” according to the DCCCD website, referring to a recent change by Republicans to the state Senate voting procedures that could allow the bill to pass swiftly despite opposition from Democrats. According to Lindsay Bramson, a reporter for KXAN News in Austin, Texas, the new rule calls for the approval of 19 state senators to introduce a bill for consideration.
The change repeals a 1947 rule requiring a two-thirds approval — 21 of the 31 state senators — to bring legislation for debate. According to an Associated Press article on the KXAN website, the rule change strengthens the Republican 20-11 control in the Senate.
According to Reeve Hamilton, said, “Once passed, we will forward the bill to the Texas House as quickly as constitutionally allowed.”
At the time of filing, SB 11 contained a clause that read: “… an institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education in this state may not adopt any rule, regulation, or other provision prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns on the campus of the institution.”
According to the DMN editorial, “public universities would have no say in how to restrict guns on campus.” Exemptions would be for preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools located on a campus or a hospital maintained or operated by the institution.
For Brookhaven College, this means that both the Head Start Center and Early College High School, located in E and P Buildings respectively, would be off-limits to armed CHL holders should the bill become a law.
Higher education leaders and police chiefs across the state oppose the bill, arguing that schools would not be safe environments.
In a letter to state legislative leaders, William McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas System, outlined the reasons he opposed a campus carry bill. McRaven said his opposition stems from his concern for the safety of over 300,000 combined students, faculty and staff.
McRaven said “university health professionals, who know and deal with the reality of emotional and physiological pressures” on students have expressed unease over the measure. These pressures “contribute to the harsh reality that suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students,” he added.
McRaven also mentioned that police officers may not be able to differentiate between a shooter and someone trying to defend themselves or others if both have guns drawn. Chief John Klingensmith, director of college police at Brookhaven, said in an email that responding officers would have to “make a split-second decision of who is the actual active shooter.”
According to Klingensmith’s email, another concern for Brookhaven police is the “limited amount of training” required to obtain a CHL in the state — only four to six hours. “Continuing education is no longer required for CHL renewal. CHL holders will simply apply online and submit the supporting documents,” Klingensmith said.
Patrick Skinner, a Brookhaven student and U.S. Army veteran, opposes the campus carry bill. “Their pros are very subjective,” he said. “There’s no real objective meaning to them, though the cons are very real.” Skinner said children will become more desensitized to violence if gun control laws are eased.
Despite opposition, state Republicans seem set on passing the bill. Supporters of the bill say its purpose is for students, faculty and staff to protect themselves and use the weapons for self-defense, Bramson said.
“Law enforcement can’t be everywhere, and these gun-free zones are some of the most dangerous places in America and Texas,” State Rep. Allen Fletcher, author of HB 937, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Klingensmith said “there is no way to predict how [a concealed gun holder] will respond in a high-stress situation such as an active shooter on campus.”
Skinner said the bill creates “an opportunity for vigilantism.” In a scenario where adrenaline runs high, he said gun holders without stress training will not be able to respond properly and may cause more collateral damage.
Skinner said he feels safer without guns on campus. He said he believes the only way a bill would work is if only faculty were allowed to carry guns and attended state-mandated training.