The Texas Senate has already passed a bill allowing handguns on college campuses. Now the House is poised to consider its own measure.
The lower chamber's Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee voted 6-3 along party lines on Tuesday to send House Bill 937 by state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, to the full House. The bill allows licensed handgun owners to carry a concealed weapon on college campuses, a controversial proposal that has been criticized by some high-ranking university officials.
University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven penned a letter to lawmakers in January expressing his concern that allowing guns on college campuses “will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds.”
McRaven and others have suggested gun-wielding students might intimidate classmates and professors to the point of affecting their freedom of speech.
“If you’re in a heated debate with somebody in the middle of a classroom, and you don’t know whether or not that individual is carrying, how does that inhibit the interaction between students and faculty?” McRaven asked at a Texas Tribune event in February.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp has said he isn't concerned about allowing guns on campus because he trusts teachers and students "to work and live responsibly under the same laws at the university as they do at home."
Fletcher’s campus carry bill mirrors legislation by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, that passed the Senate earlier this month. It’s the second measure approved by the House committee to loosen state gun laws, following a measure to allow licensed handgun owners to carry their weapons openly in public that passed the committee last week. The committee heard public testimony on both bills earlier this month.
“Most people who study or work on campus don’t live there. They drive, they walk or take public transportation from somewhere else and may have to travel through less than safe areas,” Fletcher told the committee. “Licensed individuals should be able to protect themselves during that commute.”
The campus carry bill allows universities to carefully regulate the storage of handguns in dormitories and leaves rules in place that restrict handguns in K-12 educational facilities, bars, hospitals and churches even if they’re located on campus. Private colleges have the option to opt out of allowing handguns on campus — a provision some say should apply to public institutions as well.
Because only those 21 years or older can obtain a concealed handgun license in Texas, most underclassmen still won’t be able to bring guns to campus, Fletcher said.
At the crux of the debate is whether allowing guns on campus makes students more or less safe.
Richard Martinez, whose 20-year-old son Christopher was shot and killed last year in Isla Vista, Calif., told the committee earlier this month that the bill “makes the average day on campus more dangerous.”
“For most, [college] is the first time away from home — a vulnerable time in their lives confronted by academic pressures, relationship problems and experimentation with alcohol and drugs,” Martinez said. “Adding guns to that mix just doesn’t make sense.”
At the same hearing, Suzanna Gratia Hupp, a former state representative whose parents were killed in the 1991 mass shooting at Luby’s restaurant in Killeen, spoke in favor of the campus gun measure.
“If I’m a madman that wants to rack up a big bodybag count and beat the last guy’s bodybag count, I’m not going to go to a [National Rifle Association] convention or the dreaded gun show,” she said. “I’m going to go where the Legislature has said people can’t protect themselves.”
Disclosure: The Texas A&M University System is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.