Republicans fire first shot in campus carry debate

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

State legislators in the House and Senate filed identical bills Monday that would allow University students, faculty and staff with proper licenses to carry concealed handguns in campus buildings.

Under current Texas laws, licensed students, faculty and staff at universities are allowed to keep handguns in cars on campus, but general “campus carry” is illegal even with a permit.

The two bills, HB937 and SB11, which five representatives and 19 of the 20 Republican senators authored, prohibit University officials from creating rules to ban concealed handguns on campus in general. Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), an author of SB 11, said the bills give more freedom to independent and private schools because the institutions are not regulated by the state as strictly.

“Private institutions may opt out because they are not state institutions,” Seliger said. Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), primary author of HB937, said the bill would only apply to students over the age of 21 who have completed training and background checks.

“As long as they are concealing their gun as law requires with a license, we don’t want them to have to unarm themselves to [go to class],” Fletcher said.

Each bill does provide some leeway in certain areas and buildings on campus. According to the bill, administrators could still prohibit concealed handguns in residence halls, university-operated hospitals, sports games and on-campus preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools. UT currently has an on-campus preschool.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said it is not clear whether the Dell Medical School will be considered a hospital as defined by the bill. He said it will depend on how the state interprets “hospital” — if the bill is passed.

“It’s too early to say how much of the medical school building and the work that goes on there will qualify as a hospital,” Susswein said. The bills also contain provisions that would prevent universities from being liable for the actions of concealed handgun owners.  

Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), who opposes campus carry and serves as vice chair of the higher education committee, said he thinks college campuses should be a “safety zone,” free of guns.

“I don’t know why in the world we would allow the proliferation of handguns on campus,” Royce said.Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Grandbury), an author of SB 11, said he thinks that allowing licensed students to carry concealed handguns on campus will increase safety.

“Criminals looking to do harm are going to carry on campus, regardless of the law,” “This bill acts as a deterrent, as criminals will no longer be able to assume their victims are unarmed on a college campus,” Birdwell said in an email.

Four Republican members of the House have signed the bill as joint-authors in support of the policy alongside Fletcher.

19 of the 20 Republicans in the Senate are listed primary authors of SB 11. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is the only Republican senator not listed as a primary author. In a statement from her spokesperson, Austin Arceneaux, Huffman said she is in favor of campus carry but wants to review the bill further.

President William Powers Jr. said he would not support campus carry policies at UT.

“I think the general view is there are situations that can be volatile, and — when a gun is present and alcohol is involved, or whatever — I think in the aggregate, that’s a dangerous situation,” Powers said. “I believe our law enforcement professionals agree with that.”

Representatives from the UT and UT System police departments declined to comment.

Chancellor William McRaven could not be reached for comment. However, UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said McRaven does not support campus carry.

“Chancellor McRaven plans to send a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott outlining his thoughts on the issue,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

During the 83rd legislative session, Fletcher filed a similar campus carry bill that was passed in the House and the Criminal Justice Committee in the Senate. The bill did not make it to the Senate floor for vote because Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) blocked it.

The three-fifths rule change last week allows a bill to be heard with 19 votes — which corresponds with the 19 senators supporting the bill. Fletcher said that with the current number of supporters, the bill will pass in the Senate. He anticipates it will pass in the House this legislative session as well.

“Things have changed, and I do believe I am going to get a vote in Senate this time,” Fletcher said.

Correction: This article has been updated to correctly reflect the bill's definition of a hospital.