Texas House to hear campus carry legislation

Joshua Fechter

Concealed handgun license holders could carry on university campuses if the Texas Legislature approves a bill going before the House of Representatives on Saturday.

The bill, authored by State Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would authorize university administrators to establish rules prohibiting concealed handguns in buildings located on campus only after consulting faculty, staff and students.

Fletcher said the bill would “decriminalize” possessing concealed handguns on campus. He said license holders would have to meet the age requirement — 21 and over — and will have completed background checks and training.

“It won’t be a bunch of 19-year-old freshmen running around at frat parties with guns,” Fletcher said. “They will be over 21.”

Similar legislation has stalled in the Senate. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has said he would not bring the Senate companion to the bill up for a hearing in the committee.

Whitmire said Thursday if the House passes Fletcher’s bill, it could come to his committee for an “unnecessary” hearing or be referred to another committee.

“Whichever committee gets it and looks at it, it’s going to be dead because there are not 21 votes [for the bill] on the Senate floor,” Whitmire said.

A bill that passed out of the Senate Tuesday would allow license holders to keep concealed handguns in their vehicles while on campus. Whitmire voted for the bill and said it was a reasonable compromise. 

The bill’s author, state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said he does not see his bill as a substitute to campus carry because the two proposals address two separate ways to carry firearms.

He said instances such as the Jan. 22 shooting at Lone Star College-North Harris do not reflect the behavior of law-abiding concealed handgun license holders. In that instance, the gunman injured three people, including himself, after arguing with a student.

“A piece of paper that has a law on it that’s trying to prevent law-abiding citizens from having their firearm in their car doesn’t stop that deranged individual,” Hegar said. “So we have to separate criminals, people that have intent to do harm and law-abiding citizens.”

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, voted against Hegar’s proposal and said he would vote against similar legislation if it came from the House.

“All it does is promote proliferation of guns on public spaces, and I don’t think they have any business in learning institutions, whether it’s in elementary schools, high schools or universities,” Rodriguez said.

UT and UT System officials have repeatedly stated their opposition to legislation allowing handguns on campuses.

UT President William Powers Jr. has signaled his opposition to the legislation throughout this session. UT spokesman Gary Susswein said Thursday that Powers’ stance has not changed.

“President Powers’ position on this issue has been clear,” Susswein said. “He does not believe guns on campus are a good idea.”

In a March 12 letter, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told Gov. Rick Perry he does not believe the presence of concealed handguns on campus would create a safer environment.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, authored the Senate version of campus carry rejected by Whitmire. Birdwell said the presence of handguns does not mean an increase in crime or violent incidences.

“If that were the case, then we would have the shootings at the grocery stores, the Starbucks, all the places where you can lawfully carry your CHL,” Birdwell said. “To make that assumption is ludicrous.”