Allen Fletcher

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. 

Concealed handgun license holders could carry on university campuses if the Texas Legislature approves a bill going before the House of Representatives on Saturday.

The bill, authored by State Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would authorize university administrators to establish rules prohibiting concealed handguns in buildings located on campus only after consulting faculty, staff and students.

Fletcher said the bill would “decriminalize” possessing concealed handguns on campus. He said license holders would have to meet the age requirement — 21 and over — and will have completed background checks and training.

“It won’t be a bunch of 19-year-old freshmen running around at frat parties with guns,” Fletcher said. “They will be over 21.”

Similar legislation has stalled in the Senate. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has said he would not bring the Senate companion to the bill up for a hearing in the committee.

Whitmire said Thursday if the House passes Fletcher’s bill, it could come to his committee for an “unnecessary” hearing or be referred to another committee.

“Whichever committee gets it and looks at it, it’s going to be dead because there are not 21 votes [for the bill] on the Senate floor,” Whitmire said.

A bill that passed out of the Senate Tuesday would allow license holders to keep concealed handguns in their vehicles while on campus. Whitmire voted for the bill and said it was a reasonable compromise. 

The bill’s author, state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said he does not see his bill as a substitute to campus carry because the two proposals address two separate ways to carry firearms.

He said instances such as the Jan. 22 shooting at Lone Star College-North Harris do not reflect the behavior of law-abiding concealed handgun license holders. In that instance, the gunman injured three people, including himself, after arguing with a student.

“A piece of paper that has a law on it that’s trying to prevent law-abiding citizens from having their firearm in their car doesn’t stop that deranged individual,” Hegar said. “So we have to separate criminals, people that have intent to do harm and law-abiding citizens.”

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, voted against Hegar’s proposal and said he would vote against similar legislation if it came from the House.

“All it does is promote proliferation of guns on public spaces, and I don’t think they have any business in learning institutions, whether it’s in elementary schools, high schools or universities,” Rodriguez said.

UT and UT System officials have repeatedly stated their opposition to legislation allowing handguns on campuses.

UT President William Powers Jr. has signaled his opposition to the legislation throughout this session. UT spokesman Gary Susswein said Thursday that Powers’ stance has not changed.

“President Powers’ position on this issue has been clear,” Susswein said. “He does not believe guns on campus are a good idea.”

In a March 12 letter, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told Gov. Rick Perry he does not believe the presence of concealed handguns on campus would create a safer environment.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, authored the Senate version of campus carry rejected by Whitmire. Birdwell said the presence of handguns does not mean an increase in crime or violent incidences.

“If that were the case, then we would have the shootings at the grocery stores, the Starbucks, all the places where you can lawfully carry your CHL,” Birdwell said. “To make that assumption is ludicrous.”

UT administrators continue their opposition to allowing concealed handguns on campus after a House committee approved a bill Thursday to permit licensees to carry on university grounds.

The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee voted in favor of the bill, authored by state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, who added an amendment that would allow universities to opt out of permitting concealed handguns inside buildings.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said administrators had not looked at Fletcher’s proposal but reiterated President William Powers Jr.’s opposition to allowing guns on campus.

“We do not believe the college campus is an appropriate place for guns,” Susswein said.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa also opposes allowing concealed handguns at system universities. On March 12, Cigarroa sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry expressing concerns that such a measure would not increase safety at universities.

“I respect the Legislature’s authority to decide this policy issue and that neither all legislators nor the Texans they represent will agree,” Cigarroa said in the letter. “However, during my tenure as chancellor, parents, students, faculty, staff, administrators and institutional law enforcement officers have all expressed concern that the presence of concealed handguns on our campus will make the campus environment less safe.”