By James Hartley
A bill allowing licensed gun owners to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses has gained state Senate approval and appears headed for passage in the House and approval by the governor.
The Senate approved three gun-related bills this month: the campus carry bill, an open-carry bill and a bill making it illegal for government entities to post signs barring guns from their premises.
The campus carry bill, Senate Bill 11 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) passed the Senate 20-11, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
The law would allow concealed handgun license holders to bring concealed weapons into college buildings and classrooms. Unlike similar bills attempted in previous legislative sessions, public collegiate schools could not opt out. A 2013 law allows licensed gun owners to keep weapons in their vehicles on college campuses.
Concealed license holders must be 21, have no felony convictions and complete a handgun safety course. Federal law requires licensees to be capable of sound judgment and free of chemical dependency. But neither psychological testing nor training for armed altercations is mandated.
Because of the age restriction, 8,930 of Eastfield’s 14,000-plus students would be eligible to carry guns at school.
Student Herbert Rodriguez, a military veteran, said gun owners expecting to use their weapons for self-defense in public need instruction on when it’s appropriate to pull a weapon and how to react in life-threatening situations.
“Students should be properly trained first, also staff and security,” he said. “That would prepare them for any type of scenarios, to only just how to shoot a gun.”
Law enforcement organizations along with most colleges, universities and teacher’s groups, including the Dallas County Community College District, oppose the bill.
Voters are almost evenly split on the campus carry issue, with 47 percent saying faculty, staff and students should be allowed to carry weapons on campuses and 45 percent saying should not, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. The other 8 percent had no opinion.
Students, faculty and staff at Eastfield are also divided. A recent informal Et Cetera poll of students found 18 opposed to guns on campus, six said in favor.
“Why are we building a culture of violence in an educational institution where we teach how to be tolerant of one another?” said Dr. Shazia Ali.
Those in favor of the bill believe that the bill would do the opposite, instead building a culture of safety.
The open carry legislation, Senate Bill 17 by Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), also appears destined for law. It would allow concealed license holders to wear handguns in hip or shoulder holsters in public. The bill does not allow for open carry on college campuses if SB 11 should be passed.
Texas already allows for rifles to be carried openly in public.
Senate Bill 273 by Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would fine government entities such as cities up to $1,500 for the first day of a violation followed by $10,500 per each following day for posting signs prohibiting lawful concealed carry.
The bills now head to the House.
Marlene Salazar contributed to this report.