Spring break is approaching. By Friday evening, the UT campus will resemble something like a West Texas ghost town as thousands of students embark on their seasonal week-long exodus. Others will stay and head downtown for the South by Southwest (SXSW) festivities. But no matter where they end up next week, few will be focused on developments at the Capitol, where the Texas Legislature remains in session. Perhaps not coincidentally, a committee hearing for bills that would allow concealed guns on campus will take place when students are least likely to notice, on Thursday, March 14.
The hearing will focus on bills filed in the Texas House of Representatives, including HB 972 and HB 1313. The lawmakers who authored the bills, all Republicans, have expressed sentiments that the legislation would be in students’ best interest. But speaking on our own behalf, we disagree. We stand with Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, who testified at a similar hearing in 2011, “The last thing we want to introduce into the college environment — kind of like a bar — is a gun.”
Acevedo’s comment was made in response to legislation proposed in the House during the previous session. They were joined in the Senate by Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. Wentworth’s bill, which came dangerously close to passing, failed only after several senators withdrew support months later under pressure from their constituents.
If anything, the fight for concealed carry on campus will be even more contentious this year. A poll conducted last month by UT and the Texas Tribune found that Texans are split evenly on the issue: 48 percent support allowing concealed handguns on college campuses, 47 percent oppose it and 5 percent are undecided.
But members of the University community have the most at stake, and we must do all we can to make our case. Scheduling the hearing when most students will be out of town is a cheap tactic to undermine the interests of UT community. It’s up to us to fight back to make our voices heard.
University leaders have already spoken out against concealed carry on campus. In February, the University’s Faculty Council and President William Powers Jr. reaffirmed their opposition to allowing firearms on UT’s grounds. In 2011, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa wrote to Gov. Rick Perry expressing his concerns that “the presence of concealed handguns on campus would contribute to a less safe environment, not a safer one.” Even Dan Branch, the Republican Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, has stated his hesitancy about a “one-size fits all” legislative approach to the issue, preferring that individual universities be allowed to make their own decisions.
We oppose the legislation, which we feel will compromise the safety of the UT campus. We hope that those who can attend the March 14 hearing will take a stand against the legislation. But, regardless of your opinion on the issue, we urge you to make your voice heard. Email, write a letter or call state lawmakers. It’s time we let the Legislature know that, despite their strategic scheduling to diminish any meaningful student presence, we won’t be ignored about concealed carry on our campus.