2 years ago
Anwesha Bhattacharjee
Mercury Staff
Hamid Shah
Mercury Staff

After three sessions of repeated debates in the Texas Legislature, Senate Bill 11, the controversial concealed carry on campus bill, passed the Texas House 98-47 on May 31. The bill currently awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval.

Both sides went back and forth, adding and deleting amendments to the bill in the week before it passed. After two failed filibuster attempts, abandonment of normal legislative proceedings and a conference committee hearing, SB11 finally passed the Senate on May 30 in a slightly amended form than the original.

Rep. Allan Fletcher (R), who co-authored the bill, could not be reached for comment.

The bill, if signed into law by Abbott, will come into effect Aug. 1, 2016.

While private universities will be able to opt out based on campus opinion, public universities can request certain areas within the campus to be made gun-free zones.

According to the amended bill, presidents of public universities can draft a policy on concealed carry on campus in consultation with students, staff and faculty which can be presented to the Board of Regents.

The Board can approve all or part of these provisions with a two-thirds vote, just like any other policy change. These policies have to be reviewed and/or revised every two years.

The language of the bill leaves a lot to speculation as to what areas are acceptable to remain gun-free on campus, said Julie Gavran, a humanities doctoral student and the Western Director for the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.

“Had it been amended in the Senate with common sense amendments that were offered up (from institutions) such as the health care centers, counselling centers, day care centers and it would have been clearly amended, we wouldn’t have to go through this every two year process with the Board of Regents, President and the students in registering the decisions with the Texas Legislature,” Gavran, who testified against the bill, said.

Student Government will work with Vice President of Student Affairs Gene Fitch and Provost Hobson Wildenthal, who will become interim president on July 1, to draft a proposal for the areas on campus which could potentially be made gun-free if Abbott signs the bill into law, said SG President Caitlynn Fortner.

Students can expect extensive polling on Facebook and at SG booths on which areas they would like to see made gun-free, she said. SG will also bring in students through focus groups to have conversations on why they think certain locations on campus are justified to be gun-free, which will include students in favor and against the bill.

The bill already excludes sporting and school sponsored events, but residential areas and laboratories are some other areas of concern. During the reading of the bill, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R), another co-author of the bill, suggested that one acceptable area that could be excluded from the bill would be a bio-chemical lab.

Terry Holcomb, executive director of Texas Carry, said there would have to be a sufficiently justified reason even for that.

“There is this fear out there that if you somehow say guns can come in (to a lab) then an average student is going to steal something from the bio lab with a handgun, and that’s just fictional,” he said.

While those opposing concealed carry on campus think day care centers and counselling centers, among other facilities, should be off-limits, political science junior Erick Bruno, a Concealed Handgun License holder, said he didn’t think restricting guns in dormitories, apartments and the counselling center is acceptable.

“As far as people working in the counselling center, I wouldn’t want to restrict their rights,” he said.

However, since these provisions for exclusion have to go through the Board of Regents, the vote could go either way despite student opinion, Andy Pelosi, executive director of The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, said.

“The Board of Regents are political appointees,” he said. “We don’t know which way they would go. I’d like to think they would support presidents’ recommendations to carve out areas, but there are lot of unknowns.”

In other states such as Arizona, Louisiana and Georgia, regents have been in opposition to campus carry and have respected the wishes of campus presidents. Pelosi said there might be a possibility Texas regents will be the same.

However, Holcomb said student opposition to campus carry should in no way be accounted for while making a law because no voting block should be allowed to infringe upon the rights of others.

The financial cost to implementing the bill can be anywhere from $4 – $7 million for the university system, Pelosi said. In Idaho, the the cost of enforcing the law cost $4 million in eight public universities.

This included the cost of signs in prohibited areas, hiring new enforcement staff, metal detectors and gun safes in residential areas on campus.

Holcomb said that gun safes should be a responsibility of the gun owner and not the universities, and the only expenses should be for signs, which will be minimal. He said  that universities can mandate that CHL owners find a way to keep their guns locked and safely stored when left unused.

In 2013, only 0.31 percent of all convicted individuals in Texas were CHL owners, although that number has risen  from 0.13 percent in 2008, according to statistics released by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Injury in family violence cases constituted a consistently high proportion of CHL owner convictions for each of those years.

Of the 158 CHL owner convictions in 2014, three were for murder, 20 for sexual assault on a child, 10 for aggravated sexual assault on a child, 17 for inappropriate sexual contact with a child and 16 for unlawfully carrying a weapon.

While this law will only apply to those with CHL authorization, Pelosi said it will increase risk of suicide on campus considering suicides comprise the second largest cause of deaths on college campuses.

“We’ve just made it easier,” he said. “We’ve just expanded the population of people who can and will carry weapons.”

Holcomb said that the law wouldn’t introduce criminals into the environment and said colleges aren’t full of people that are ready to fire a gun at the slightest provocation.

“If you were to believe the opposition from that point of view then you would seriously reconsider sending your children to college because it’s obviously full of unstable people; that they would go off at the drop off a hat killing people,” he said. “That’s just ludicrous.”

UTD Police Chief Larry Zacharias opposed the bill along with UTD President David Daniel and UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven, because it was one less thing to worry about, he said.

However, he acknowledged if someone with criminal intent decided to bring a gun to campus, he or she would do it regardless of a law that allowed concealed carry.

“When we see problems with guns, it’s the criminal elements, not the concealed handgun owners,” Zacharias said earlier this year. “We were lumping everyone with a gun into one classification and that’s not the case.”

Bruno said there aren’t that many CHL owners in Texas to start with.

As of 2014, Texas had 825, 957 CHL owners according to the Texas DPS. More than 200,000 applications were issued in the same year, of which slightly over 8,500 were in Collin County and 13,462 in Dallas County.

In the same year, 9, 669 applications for licenses were issued to people in the 18 – 24 age group in Texas, approximately 0.8 percent of the population in the state in that age group.

When narrowed down further to UTD, the bill only impacts 40 percent of the student body, leaving the remaining under-21, international and out-of-state demographic unaffected, Zacharias said.

The likelihood that the passing of this law will cause those without CHL to apply for one and get it is very low, he said.

Fortner said students should try to read the bill itself and understand the terms of it themselves, considering it is a fairly short 12-page bill.

“I encourage students to read the bill and I think many people will be surprised at how different it is than its original form,” she said. “It’s more in line with what students wanted according to our opinion poll. It’s more in line with giving campuses the opportunity to opt out when appropriate under specific circumstances and I think students will be pleasantly surprised.”