The Senate State Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 17, which would allow licensed holders to carry holstered handguns openly and Senate Bill 11, which would undo a ban of concealed handguns for licensed holders 21 or over at state university campuses, on Feb. 12.
The committee passed both bills with a 7-2 vote. They will now proceed to the full Senate for debate. SB11 has raised the interest of those on college campuses in particular.
Bill McRaven, the chancellor of the University of Texas System, sent a letter to Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus on Jan. 29 speaking out against concealed handguns on campus. In the letter, he said health professionals from the UT System have expressed fear that having guns on campuses will contribute to more shootings at universities.
“There is a great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals age 21 or older, will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds,” McRaven said in the statement.
John Sharp, the chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, also released a statement to Patrick concerning the bill. In the statement, he said he didn’t feel any concern that having gun owners with legal weapons on campus would raise safety concerns and that the Texas A&M University System will not oppose campus carry.
Students have had varied takes on SB11. Julie Gavran, an Arts and Humanities Ph.D. student and the Southwestern director for The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, said bringing guns on campus poses more risks than benefits.
“I think allowing more guns on campus, you have increased chances of suicide, accidental discharges, threats and so forth,” Gavran said.
When Gavran was a student at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, she was held up at gunpoint. She said that if she had a gun, the altercation could have turned deadly. She also said that that there is no need to add guns as a layer of self-defense because crime rates on college campuses are not high.
“It’s solving a problem that doesn’t exist…crime rates are so low already on state college campuses that there’s really not a problem to fix,” she said.
Others have not been convinced of the negative consequences the bill could have. Computer science senior Ryan Miller, who has a concealed handgun license, said while allowing people with CHL’s to carry their guns on campus may not help with safety and security, it will be beneficial because it will allow them to exercise their constitutional rights.
“We’re all adults on college campuses. Some of us are over the age of 21 and by the state of Texas we’re allowed to conceal handguns,” he said.
He said he got his CHL so he could learn more about gun laws and because it was a supplement to the training he already had as a gun owner. Miller said people who aren’t familiar with concealed handguns don’t understand that they can only be used in specific situations. He said only certain crimes, including assault, robbery and rape, allow for the use of a firearm in self-defense.
“I feel like you would have less overreaction if people were just more educated about the law before getting such a license,” he said.
Some of the largest opponents of the bill have been police forces across the state. During hearings last week, several police chiefs testified against the billl, according to The Texas Tribune.
UTD Police Chief Larry Zacharias said he stands behind McRaven and UTD President David Daniel, who also does not support the bill. He said if there are fewer guns on campus, it’s one less problem for him to worry about. Even though he doesn’t support the bill he said people have misunderstood what it actually means.
“When (the CHL) law first came up, people said, ‘Oh, it’s going to be horrible. There’s going to be gunfights with road rage and O.K. Corral and cats sleeping with dogs and people taking the law into their own hands,’” he said. “In fifteen years, that hasn’t been the case.”
He said that emotion and hype get stirred up when this issue is discussed, but he doesn’t think that having concealed carry on campus would make that big of an impact. There are several factors that Zacharias said would make it difficult for people at UTD to qualify to even carry concealed handguns.
“We’ve got about 25 percent of our student population or more, maybe 30 percent, that are under the age of 21, so they don’t qualify for a license,” he said. “We have another 25 or greater percent that are international, and maybe if you take that to 30 percent, that are not residents of Texas. They can’t get a concealed handgun license.”
If the bill were to pass, the biggest change for UTD Police would be in how they would approach the subject of guns at orientation. Currently, Zacharias makes a point to tell new students that there are no guns allowed on campus. With a new law, he would change how he discussed the policy, particularly with graduate students and new employees.
“What I would probably say differently is, ‘If for some reason you were ever in a position as a concealed handgun license holder where you were confronted or involved in a situation where the UT Dallas police department responded, you need to make sure that you are not a threat to my police officers,’” he said.
If the bill ends up passing, Miller said he would want lawmakers to listen to students’ opinions on this issue.
“What I would really hope comes out of it, personally, is that they would allow campus-by-campus decision on whether or not they want to implement concealed carry,” he said. “So it would be up to the campuses decision and up to the faculty and student body at each individual campus because I think such a law might not be appropriate for certain campuses or it might not be appropriate for certain student bodies that feel contentious about this issue. I feel like if one campus really wants it and one campus really doesn’t, they should be able to implement it their own way.”