TXEXplainer: Campus-Carry Legislation

As the 83rd Texas Legislature hurtles toward its end on May 27, two bills have revived the debate over guns on college campuses. We take a look at what they might mean, plus the reaction from around the state—and the UT community.

TXEXplainer: Campus Carry Legislation

Two campus-carry bills are moving through the Legislature. Though campus-carry measures, which allow licensed gun owners to carry a firearm on campuses to varying degrees, have failed in the two most recent legislative sessions, legislators are once again considering the issue. Saturday was the House’s self-described “gun day,” and one of the measures discussed, House Bill 972 by Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), has since passed the lower chamber.

HB 972 would remove the current firearms ban on public college campuses, but would still allow universities to opt out. Passage of the measure made national news (including an interesting choice of photo on a Connecticut news site).

In the Senate, a bill introduced by state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) doesn’t quite go as far. Senate Bill 1907, passed by the Senate last week, would allow students to keep licensed firearms locked in their cars on campus. The bill was approved in a 27-4 vote, meaning eight Democrats joined 19 Republicans in voting for the measure, though Democrats have led the charge against campus carry, and many conservatives were disappointed by Hegar’s bill, and have instead pinned their hopes to Fletcher’s more expansive measure. SB 1907 is currently being considered in the House homeland security committee.

 UT is officially opposed to any campus-carry allowances. And so are many students, but not all. Both the UT System and UT-Austin have publicly opposed guns on campus. The Invest in Texas campaign, a student lobbying group representing Student Government and over 25 other student groups, has made gun-free campuses a main legislative priority.

The University’s opposition has been consistently expressed. Though UT president Bill Powers did not sign a highly publicized petition earlier this year denouncing campus-carry measures, he did sign a letter in January on behalf of the executive committee of the American Association of Universities asking the federal government to take more action on gun violence [PDF].

In his own letter, this one to Gov. Rick Perry in March, System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa voiced his opposition.

“I believe that, on balance,” Cigarroa wrote, “the permitted presence of concealed weapons will contribute to a less-safe campus environment.”

Some students around the state have, however, voiced support for campus-carry measures. In the Daily Toreador, the student paper at Texas Tech University, columnist Jordan Sigler railed against Hegar’s bill, saying it doesn’t go far enough.

“Students and faculty who have the right to carry in Texas shouldn’t have to give up the right to attend college, where yes, they are unable to defend themselves, in a place where crime rates are going up in spite of gun-free zones,” Sigler wrote last week.

At UT, a registered student group called Students for Concealed Carry has advocated for guns on campus. The group also lists chapters at Texas A&M University, Texas Tech, and Stephen F. Austin State University. At press time, the group could not be reached for comment.

The legislative outlook is unclear. State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), chair of the criminal justice committee, has made it clear he’s not interested in hearing bills related to campus carry. While Republicans have pushed for campus carry in this and previous sessions, conservatives are divided on the importance of the issue. Even with their large majority, strong Democratic opposition like Whitmire’s may derail the issue as Fletcher’s “full carry” bill moves to the Senate, and Hegar’s vehicle bill is considered in the House.

poll by the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin found that while 74 percent of Republicans support concealed carry on campus and 73 percent of Democrats oppose it, the GOP is far more split between “strongly support” and “somewhat support” than Democrats are in their opposition. The strongest single group supporting campus carry are self-identified Tea Party conservatives.

The outcome of campus carry is tied to which faction is more united, and whether those supporting it can push it through the complexities of lawmaking in the three weeks left in the current session.

If the passage of Hegar and Fletcher’s bills are any indication, the issue is still on lawmakers’ radar. Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), a strong proponent of campus carry who saw his own proposal mired in committee without a hearing earlier this session, is still pushing for a bill.

“I’m not backing up, and I’m not giving up,” Birdwell told the Texas Tribune.

Editor’s Note: The Texas Exes takes no position on campus-carry legislation.

Photo courtesy of Westside Shooter via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

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