Supporters of campus carry will be fighting against the clock on Tuesday when the Texas House takes up previously delayed legislation requiring public universities and colleges to allow concealed handguns on their campuses.
After a month of discussion over whether to attach campus carry to another piece of gun legislation — an effort to squeeze the controversial measure through — House lawmakers opted to consider the bill, Senate Bill 11, on its own.
The chamber must pass the bill by midnight Tuesday to avoid a key legislative deadline. House members are also set to take up several other major bills that day, including Senate Bill 575, a measure banning health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act's marketplace from covering abortions — setting the scene for opponents to use parliamentary maneuvers and other tactics to delay a vote.
State Rep. Larry Phillips, the Sherman Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, told The Texas Tribune last week that bringing the Senate version of campus carry to the House floor allows members "to have a full debate and discuss it so that something of that magnitude does not become law without being debated here."
Proponents of the measure argue that not allowing concealed handgun license holders to carry their firearms on campus infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens — and, at worst, could leave them without a means to defend themselves during an attack.
But the proposal has been criticized by some high-ranking university officials, including University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, who wrote 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.”
“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.
McRaven and others have suggested gun-wielding students might intimidate classmates and professors to the point of curbing freedom of speech.
In advance of Tuesday's debate, the office of state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Fort Worth, released correspondence the lawmaker had sent McRaven asking whether the addition of certain provisions to campus carry legislation might improve it.
McRaven responded with several suggestions, including banning handguns at research laboratories that pose biosafety hazards, university premises that are connected to a hospital, and crisis counseling centers and other areas where people are in "high stress or emotionally charged circumstances."
Turner also asked whether McRaven feared a campus carry policy would hurt the university's competitiveness in hiring top quality professors.
Given that studies of college faculty reveal that the majority oppose campus carry, McRaven said, "it is reasonable to conclude" that candidates for jobs at the University of Texas might instead accept offers from universities in states that don't allow it.
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said he will sign both open and campus carry measures if they clear the Legislature.
Reporter Julián Aguilar contributed to this story.