• Activists debate gun rights expansion, constitutional carry

    Tempers flared at an open carry panel Saturday when one panelist argued for the expansion of gun rights in Texas to include constitutional carry during the 2015 Texas Tribune Festival.

    After the 84th legislative session ended in May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed two hotly debated expansions of gun rights into state law on June 13 after both campus carry and open carry passed the House and Senate. While most gun rights activists heralded the new laws as a monumental win for their side, other activists argued for even further expansions.

    “I’d like to see us become a constitutional carry state,” Christopher “C.J.” Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas, said. “Right now, the only people being prevented from carrying are law-abiding citizens who either can’t afford or don’t want a license. Criminals are going to carry anyway.”

    Grisham is currently running for the Republican nomination in Senate District 24 after state Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) announced his retirement in early June.

    Although she said she is a supporter of the Second Amendment and a licensed carrier, Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) disagreed with Grisham, saying she doesn’t understand the need for expanding gun rights any more.

    “I don’t think that I have to expose it, that I have to wear it on the outside,” Alvarado said. “What’s wrong with what we have now?”

    Overall, Grisham said he was offended by the discussion on open carry and compared the requirement of Concealed Handgun Licenses to the gold stars of David used to identify Jewish individuals during the Holocaust.

    “Why are we going to identify a segment of law abiding citizens with some sort of outward identification?” Grisham said. “Let’s make felons wear those, let’s make child molesters wear those. … I just want to go about my business, I don’t want to draw attention to me.”

    Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) questioned Grisham on where to draw the line on expanding gun rights and said Texans seem to like the way Texas currently handles the issue.

    “I think some people say they like the way Texas is, they like to know that someone has gone through training,” Springer said. “[What line] do we draw the constitution at? Does that mean my 15-year-old daughter can take my gun to school?

    As an unelected official, APD Chief Acevedo argued that people who support gun rights must learn to not push too hard or they could see a backlash at the polls.

    “The Second Amendment is just that,” Acevedo said. “There will come a point of no return where there is a process where that amendment can be changed by the will of the people of this country. People don’t vote, there will come a time when they feel motivated to when enough blood is shed in our country.”

  • Panelists discuss higher ed funding

    The funding of higher education dominated a panel discussion among public officials during an event Saturday at the fifth annual Texas Tribune Festival.

    Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, State Reps. Donna Howard and John Zerwas and State Sens. Kel Seliger and Royce West discussed college funding and graduation rates Saturday.

    West said the Texas legislature must provide more funding to public universities to keep tuition rates down.

    “We have to do our best to make certain we provide the resources for higher education without making it so burdensome on the families,” West said. “There’s still a gap, if you will, in providing the financial aid necessary.”

    Standardized expectations for college-readiness need to be developed in collaboration between secondary schools and higher education to decrease the amount of developmental classes students need to take before beginning their degree plans, Paredes said.

    “For some reason, universities, colleges and public high school systems cannot get on the same page,” Paredes said. “We still spend too much money on remediation for courses to make certain students prepared to go to the next level.”

    Zerwas said the costs for the Hazlewood exemption — a program that provides tuition exemptions to veterans and their qualified dependents — needs to be better communicated to regents so veterans get the benefits they deserve.

    “We budget money for the Hazlewood exemption, but does not come close to the costs it has blown out of proportion for,” Zerwas said.

    Paredes said Texas must place an emphasis on sending high school graduates to college and ensuring they graduate on time, even as universities become emerging research centers.

    “We send about 50 percent of our high school graduates onto higher education, but the states with the best-educated send about two-thirds of their high school graduates,” Parades said. “Our completion rates are [also] still not where they need to be.”

  • Chancellors discuss campus carry, tuition costs at higher education panel

    Campus carry and the cost of higher education dominated a panel discussion between four Texas university system chancellors Saturday.

    “I was not in favor of the bill, but having said that, now that the law has passed, our responsibility is to make sure that we carry out the law, not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law,” UT System Chancellor William McRaven said. “There were some second and third order effects that were unanticipated, but we’re working through them.”

    McRaven, Texas Tech Chancellor Robert Duncan, University of North Texas System Chancellor Lee Jackson and Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall spoke as members of the panel “Chancellor Confidential” at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday.

    Jackson said he thought campus carry was not as important as other higher education issues.

    “We’ve had arrests on our UNT campus in Denton for illegally bringing weapons on campus in the last decade,” Jackson said. “Not a single one of those arrests has involved a CHL permit holder. So they have apparently obeyed the law more than people who didn’t have the CHL permits.”

    Marjorie Hass, president of Austin College and audience member, said, as a private institution, Austin College will likely opt out of campus carry. Under the campus carry law, public universities must allow campus carry, but private institutions may choose not to implement the law.

    “Nothing in the public debate around campus carry has led our stakeholders to strongly believe that we should change our current policy, which is that handguns are not allowed on our campus,” Hass said. 

    On the subject of tuition, Duncan said rising costs are in part because of lower funding from the state after the economic downturn in 2009. Public universities now receive $9 to $10 less per weighted semester credit hour from the legislature than before, according to Duncan.

    “About 1.4 billion dollars was taken out of the higher education budget,” Duncan said. “That’s where we’ve not been able to catch up. I look forward to the opportunity to work with the legislature to deal with these issues.”

    Funding research and campus growth attracts students to public universities in a competitive academic market, especially at UT-Dallas, according to McRaven.

     “Students want to come to great emerging research universities,” McRaven said. “Make no mistake about it, it costs money to do it right.”

    Natalie Nehls, international relations and government sophomore, said the rising cost of tuition since the 1960s demandsa solution. 

    “No one really has a set solution to what we can do to decrease costs,” Nehls said. “I didn’t feel like there had been anything implemented.”

  • Gov. Greg Abbott speaks on Hidden Pines fires

    Following another set of wildfires in Bastrop County, Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas Military Operations is working to get more aircraft resources into the area.

    Since the fires started on Tuesday, they have encompassed more than 4,500 acres of land, and about 15 percent of the fire is contained, according to the Texas A&M Fire Service. Nine homes were destroyed and 150 homes are threatened by the fires. The county is currently in a state of disaster.

    At a press conference, Abbott said he was thankful for officials with state agencies and members of the community who are working to contain the damage and protect the citizens.

    "Because of the challenges in containing this, shifting winds and weather conditions the way they are, we are adding more resources as we speak," Abbott said. "The Texas Military Operations are adding two more Black Hawk helicopters as well two Chinooks today to be sure they are able to respond more effectively."  

    While the press conference occurred, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said a helicopter was in the air with a GPS system tracking the perimeter of the fire but would not know until the afternoon how much acreage had burned.

    Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said the difference right now between the 2011 Bastrop fires, which affected 96 percent of the approximately 6,565-acre state park, to the ones being dealt with today are the wind levels.

    “The big difference is the winds right now,” Kidd said. “We had 50 mile a hour winds back then. If we get back to that point today, we’ve got to have the community listening to stay out of the way and we can save lives.”

    In Bastrop and across the state of Texas, Kidd said it is likely these fires will need to be controlled for the next seven to 10 days. While it is important to have as many resources working to prevent the fires, Kidd said the timing of when resources arrive is important.

    “We are seeing firefighters from not only across the state but tomorrow you will see national and schematic management teams as well as the state of Florida and the state of Georgia,” Kidd said. “This fire has national attention at this point and you’ll see additional resources come in. The timing of when they come in, what they do, where they go is critical not only for their safety but for the containment of the fire.”   

    Pape said the area has dealt with fires before, but he appreciates the help and support the community receives.

    "To have Gov. Abbott here today speaking in such genuine terms is a great comfort to the citizens of Bastrop County," Pape said.

  • UTPD issues statement regarding 'non-credible' 4chan threat

    Updated (1:30 a.m. Tuesday): Journalism professor Robert Quigley said he is upset by the fact that threats such as this can control an entire community.

    “It’s sad that we’re at this point in time in our culture and in our society where we have to worry about this kind of thing,” Quigley said. “It’s really too bad that these shootings have happened and that a threat like this whether real or some kind of troll, can shake an entire campus.”

    Quigley compared the online threat to terrostic threats made in the aftermath of 9/11. Quigley said the reality that campus shootings have happened recently, noting the shooting in Oregon, is leading to increased fear.

    “It’s easy to say well it was just some troll,” Quigley said. “The fact that we’ve had real campus shootings puts everybody on edge.”

    Quigley, a Texas Student Media board member, said he first learned of the threat from his students, before UTPD sent an email to the campus community.

    Albert Orkun, economics and math freshman, said he is not worried about the threat at all.

    “I am going to class,” Orkun said. “I’m going to wake up and just live my life normally.” 

    Plan II freshman Cecilia Handy said some of her friends feel uncomfortable going to class on Tuesday, but said she will go to class, despite reservations stemming from the recent Oregon shooting. 

    “Some of them don’t feel comfortable going to class tomorrow,” Handy said. “I feel comfortable going to class, but I don’t know how I feel about the email UT sent that said it’s not a credible threat. I don’t know how comforting that was to receive.”

    Quigley said he feels UTPD handled the situation well by emailing the campus community and creating awareness, while trying to subdue the hysteria.

    “I just don’t know what the police can do when everybody is really nervous and really on edge,” Quigley said. “I think that was handled pretty well.”

    Biology junior Callie Hatcher said she will go to class to keep up her grades, but feels apprehensive about police responses to the 4Chan threat.

    "It’s insane that shootings like these have become so common that there’s a legitimate reason to be afraid. APD and UTPD reacted to the situation swiftly, but I wish they’d be a little less cryptic with their announcements,” Hatcher said over Twitter. “I’ll more than likely be going to class tomorrow. There are I-Clicker points up for grabs that affect my grade a great deal.”

    Quigley said even though he doesn’t have class scheduled tomorrow, he will be in his office hours for his students.

    “You can either choose to live in fear, or you can choose to live your life,” Quigley said. “At this point I choose to live my life, of course I’ll be observant and pay attention to what’s going on around me, and I think everybody should.”

     
    Anthony Green, Josh Willis, and Caleb Wong contributed to this report.

    Original report: A 4chan post, that has since-been deleted, spread on Facebook and Twitter Monday afternoon when an anonymous user urged students to not go to school on Tuesday if they are near Austin. 

    idc if this is a joke or serious, but still stay safe. #Austin #texas pic.twitter.com/vcCmgRDXwT

    UT sent out a safety alert that said the threat was deemed non-credible by UTPD and associated law enforcement agencies, despite its resemblance to a 4chan post from last Wednesday night that warned students in the Northwest against attending school on Thursday — the day of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon that led to the death of 9 students and staff members, plus the death of the shooter by suicide.

    UTPD is aware of threatening posts & working w/ other agencies. No credible threat at this time.

    The complete text of the Austin post read “Some of you guys are alright. Don’t go to school tomorrow if you’re near Austin. happening thread will be posted later. so long, space robots.”

    This follows similar threats to colleges and universities around the Philadelphia-area stemming from a Sunday 4chan post. 

    Zainab Calcuttawala and Anthony Green contributed to this report.

     

    If you are a student concerned about the situation and need to talk to someone about it, here are some University resources:

    UT Counseling and Mental Health Center Crisis Line: 512-471-2255

    Behavior Concerns Advice Line: 512-232-5050

    UT Police Department (for emergencies): 512-232-5050

    UT Counseling and Mental Health Center Services: (512) 471-3515

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