Wanted: Lawmakers with compassion

Zachary Price

In the early afternoon of May 2, police said Kendrex White pulled out a Bowie-style hunting knife in front of Gregory Gym and plunged it into the back of UT freshman Harrison Brown— killing him. White’s stabbing spree also seriously injured three other students and shook the composure of an entire campus. The next day, more than 2,500 students gathered around the Tower, holding candles and adorned with black ribbons in memory of our lost classmate. In the coming days, the campus was quieter than I’ve ever seen it.

Less than a half-mile up the road, the Texas Legislature didn’t seem to feel the impact. Or maybe they just couldn’t be convinced to give a damn. Just three days after Brown was laid to rest, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill (now law) allowing Texans to open-carry knives larger than 5.5 inches.

With White being indicted for murder earlier this week, the pain of this action is again fresh. Exactly a week after the tragedy, Rep. John Frullo and his colleagues were ready to vote to allow the open carry of the exact knife White used. This was the legislative equivalent of decriminalizing nail bombs in the wake of the Manchester bombing, or allowing guns to be carried on college campuses on the anniversary of the UT Tower shooting. Oh wait, they did that too.

This episode shows a fundamental lack of compassion present in a legislative session marked by such moments. Observers will remember the House Freedom Caucus killing a bill on maternal mortality by a state representative that almost died in childbirth, Rep. Drew Springer breaking down in tears on the house floor in a desperate plea to pass a bill on stem cell research that could help his disabled wife, or Gov. Greg Abbott vetoing more than $850,000 in funding for colonias, communities along the Texas-Mexico border that lack even basic access to clean water and electricity.

To his credit, author Frullo moved to postpone consideration of the bill in response to the stabbing and later allowed for an amendment by Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton to carve college campuses, among other places, out of the law. While this law won’t allow students to carry hunting knives on campus (though the original bill would have), it will still allow them in places where students congregate, like restaurants and off-campus housing.

The issue here isn’t just with Frullo, or even the Republicans that so often dominate bad headlines coming out of Texas. This law is also the Democrats’ cross to bear. The law’s Senate sponsor, Sen. John Whitmire, is a Democrat, and more than 50 Democrats in total voted for its passage. Incredible levels of indifference and a fundamental lack of respect for life from lawmakers of both parties led to just three representatives (including Rep. Gina Hinojosa, who represents UT) and one senator voting against.

I don’t know if the intent of the Texas Legislature was to be so callous in its timing. But I do know that I won’t feel safe the next time I see a 20-year-old guy walking down the Drag with a machete strapped to his hip. And now, I can’t do anything to stop him.

Price is a government sophomore from Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @price_zach