Legislators Weigh Adding ‘Campus Carry’ to ‘Open Carry’ Bill

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As the 2015 Texas Legislature sprints toward the finish line, bills allowing licensed gun owners to carry firearms on college campuses seem unlikely to pass. But that doesn’t mean the legislature won’t approve a so-called campus-carry measure.

Lawmakers may attempt to attach an amendment to House Bill 910 that would require public colleges to allow concealed carry of firearms in dorms, classrooms, labs or other campus buildings. HB 910, which was passed by the House last month and may reach the Senate floor Thursday, allows licensed gun owners to openly carry holstered guns.

According to the Texas Tribune, state Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress) said that attaching the campus carry amendment in the Senate would help avoid having to “fight the fight” over the bill on the House floor. State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) is expected to offer an amendment tomorrow during the Senate’s discussion of the open-carry bill.

Currently, colleges and universities cannot prohibit licensed gun owners from keeping their firearms in their locked vehicle on campus, but the law does not allow them to carry those weapons into campus buildings.

In August 1966, when 25 year-old Charles Whitman began shooting from the UT Tower, many students and Austinites had shotguns and rifles on gun racks in their cars and trucks. Many of them began returning fire.

“It probably did save lives,” says Ramiro “Ray” Martinez. A retired Texas Ranger, Martinez was an officer with the Austin Police Department at the time of the shooting. He says the suppressing fire from shotguns and hunting rifles helped pin Whitman in place.

Along with fellow officers Houston McCoy, Jerry Day, and civilian Allen Crumb, Martinez climbed the Tower to Whitman’s perch, leading to the shooter’s eventual death.

Martinez does not, however, think the carrying of holstered pistols on campus will improve security in active shooter situation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, according to Martinez.

“I’m not for it at all,” he says. “There’s a real difference” between the Whitman shooting and today, he contends. “It would be putting more strain on the police officers.” He says is would be difficult for officers to know the difference between dangerous gunmen and legally armed citizens attempting to defend themselves, especially in “face-to-face” situations where officers must react in a split second.

“What are they gonna do? Are they gonna profile people?”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has also spoken out against campus carry measures.

University leaders have consistently opposed campus carry, as well. Student Government and outgoing UT-Austin president Bill Powers have opposed it. Former Navy SEAL, commander of military special forces, and current UT chancellor Bill McRaven, BJ ’77, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, wrote a letter to state leaders earlier this year voicing his opposition, an echo of the position taken by his predecessor, Francisco Cigarroa. McRaven has also raised the possibility that guns on campus could inhibit free speech.

“If you’re in a heated debate with somebody in the middle of a classroom, and you don’t know whether or not that individual is carrying, how does that inhibit the interaction between students and faculty?” McRaven said in February.

An estimate obtained by the Houston Chronicle earlier this year claimed that, were statewide campus carry to pass, it could cost the UT System up to $39 million in security, storage, and policing costs.

Gov. Greg Abbott, BBA ’81, Life Member, has said he would approve a campus carry measure if it makes it to his desk.

Editor’s Note: The Texas Exes has an official position on campus carry. Should legislators pass a campus-carry bill, the Association supports an opt-out provision that allows campuses flexibility in implementing the law. Read the Texas Exes’ legislative priorities here.

File photo.

 

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