Texas colleges, universities and public schools could see more firearm-carrying students or authorities under two gun rights expansion bills that got preliminary approval in the House on Saturday.
Democrats unsuccessfully tried to derail House Bill 972, a measure by state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, that allows colleges and universities to let concealed handgun license holders who are 21 or older — including, students, staff and faculty — store or carry weapons on campuses.
The bill, referred to as “campus carry,” is in line with what 24 other states currently do, and merely provides mature and trained gun owners a means to protect themselves, Fletcher argued.
“I did not file this bill so that concealed handgun license [holders] can be heroes,” Fletcher said. He said that serious crimes on campuses occur in less than a few minutes, and police officers, currently the only line of defense, are unable to respond immediately.
Fletcher reassured members that the bill had an “opt-out” provision that allowed schools to reject participation, and allowed an amendment that requires institutions, after consulting with staff, students and other stakeholders, to renew the policy annually. The bill does not extend to sporting events, and Fletcher allowed an amendment that would prevent CHL holders from taking firearms to other “official mass gatherings.” He also gave the green light to an amendment by state Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, that forbids carrying firearms on campuses that hold “biocontainment” laboratories. Eiland’s district includes the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
The House will likely pass the bill one more time as required to, but its fate in the state Senate is unclear. This week the upper chamber passed a measure that allowed CHL holders to take their weapons onto campuses but required them to secure them in their cars, a hint that senators may be hesitant to expand gun rights as far as the House would like.
Also on Saturday, the House passed HB 1009 by state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, which establishes "school marshals" — similar to air marshals — that public schools may hire to increase student safety.
The bill requires the marshals to undergo 80 hours of training; a normal CHL holder, Villalba said, must only receive eight hours of training and additional instructions. Like Fletcher's bill, Villalba's is optional — schools aren't required to hire such marshals. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, or TCLEOSE, would oversee the training program, and applicants would also be subject to a psychological examination in order to determine if they are fit for the responsibilities.
“This legislation provides school districts with a cost-effective school security option that includes robust training tailored to protect children in schools during an active shooter situation,” Villalba said in a statement minutes after the bill passed.
Villalba said the bill was modeled after the current air marshal program. Like those officers, the identity of the school marshal would only be available to certain law enforcement officials — school officials and the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The measure must still pass the lower chamber a final time, but Villalba said that after discussions with members of the Senate, he is confident the measure will pass the upper chamber.
Those two gun bills weren't the only ones to pass the House on the lower chamber's designed "Gun Day."
The House also passed measures that affect the renewal, cost and time required to obtain a concealed handgun license. Senate Bill 864, by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-San Antonio, reduces the amount of training required for the permit to no more than six hours.
The House also passed HB 485 by state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place. That measure decreases the fee for a CHL to $25 for honorably discharged members of the military and volunteer or reserve peace officers. Davis allowed an amendment that would offer the discount to correctional officers who work for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, though she said she had concerns that it would swell the bill’s fiscal note. Both measures must be passed out of the House a third time before moving to the senate for consideration.