The House Homeland Security committee will consider several bills today relating to the right to bear arms on college campuses. This is likely to be a heavily attended, contentious hearing. The fact of the matter is that handguns are no stranger to college campuses; concealed handgun license holders can tour campuses whilst packing, they just can’t go into classrooms. According to current Texas law, concealed handguns are prohibited “on the physical premises of a school or education institution” with premises defined as a building or a portion of a building. The term does not, however, apply to a driveway, street, sidewalk or parking area on or through the campus. Licensed gun-toting Texans can freely roam the exteriors of a college campus, but are barred from entering a classroom, library or dormitory. Not only are there guns on college campuses; there are even shooting ranges. Some community colleges have built shooting ranges for the purpose of offering CHL classes and training for peace office, enabling the institution to realize a profit from the range. The El Paso Community College Mission Del Paso Campus is open to both concealed carry licensees and non-credentialed civilians. It offers general gun safety courses as well as CHL classes, and judging from their prices, there’s money to be made in offering them. Mission Del Paso charges $150 for its three-day course, while most other classes I found online cost about $120. The Tarrant County College Criminal Justice Training Center also plans to open its range to the community by providing CHL classes later this spring. Here are some of the bills that will be heard today: HB 86 (Simpson) opens up all areas of a campus to CHL holders: A license holder may carry a concealed handgun on or about the license holder’s person while the license holder is on the campus of an institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education in this state. HB 750 (Driver) allows private colleges and universities to opt out of allowing concealed carry. The bill says: “A private or independent institution of higher education in this state may, after consulting with students, staff, and faculty of the institution, adopt rules, regulations, or other provisions prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns on premises that are owned or operated by the institution and located on the campus of the institution.” HB 1167, by Taylor of Collin, adds other institutions to the list of those that cannot bar Texas from carrying guns on campus: A public junior college or public technical institute in this state may not adopt any rule, regulation, or other provision prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns on the campus of the college or institute. The two poles of the debate over right-to-carry are represented by UT chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Van Taylor, the author of the HB 1167. “You shouldn’t lose the right to defend yourself because you want a college education,” Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, told me. Taylor is an Iraq War veteran who led Marine Corps sniper platoons into Iraq during the early stages of the war in 2003. Taylor added that fewer than 2 percent of Texas are CHL (around 461,000 as of Dec. 1.) “You’re more likely to get struck by lightening than to get shot by a CHL owner,” he said. Cigarroa aired his concerns in a letter to Governor Rick Perry. A key excerpt reads: “[P]arents, students, faculty, alumni, and institutional law enforcement all expressed to me their concern that the presence of concealed handguns on campus would contribute to a less-safe environment, not a safer one.” “Our law enforcement personnel, consisting of highly trained professionals who with with those unique campus environments are particularly troubled by the ability of our officers to differentiate between the bad actors and a person defending himself/herself and other when both have guns drawn. Furthermore, the high density of campus living–which includes both persons of age and persons too young to secure a concealed handgun license raises issues of how licensed individuals will be able to secure their weapons when not carried on the individual’s person.” While feelings are strong on both sides, there is no doubt where the sympathies of the Legislature lie. Campus carry is going to be the law in Texas. [This post written by legislative intern, Katherine Stevens]
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