Fourteen of 32 Texas state senators authored a bill that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses.
Senate Bill 354, which was brought to the state legislature on Jan. 13, would allow students and professors who hold a concealed handgun license (CHL) the right to carry guns on public university grounds. It is currently being reviewed by the Texas Committee on Criminal Justice before heading to the senate.
While there has been opposition to SB 354 since its inception, some say that concealed weapons would not be a danger to campus safety.
“It would improve it,” said Sue Critz, a CHL qualified handgun instructor in El Paso, Tex. She is a National Rifle Association (NRA) certified instructor and has been a CHL carrier for five years.
Although she does not speak for the NRA, Critz says that Texas’ stringent laws for CHL eligibility limits the number of people that would be affected by this law.
To be eligible for CHL, one must be over 21 years old and have had no criminal charges. They must also not have any history of psychiatric disorders or be a “chemically-dependent person,” according to Texas concealed handgun laws.
“They have to do very expensive background checks, submit photos and have fingerprints taken,” Critz said. “It’s the hardest state to get a CHL. If you’re not clean as a whistle, you’re not getting licensed.”
Only a very small percentage of those on campuses would even be qualified for CHL training, Critz said.
The training consists of a 10- to 15-hour course that includes lessons on lethal force and conflict resolution. The latter teaches students to subdue a situation without the use of guns.
Regardless of the strict eligibility requirements, Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas system, is against having concealed weapons on campus. Public universities, like the University of Texas, must comply to state law, while private universities may opt out.
“Parents, students, faculty, administrators and institutional law enforcement have all expressed to me their concerns that the presence of concealed handguns on campus would contribute to a less-safe environment, not a safer one,” Cigarroa said last Thursday in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry. The Texas governor supports SB 354.
Cigarroa addresses the pressures of academic life on mental health, which may contribute to higher incidences of violence.
“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 of both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds,” Cigarroa said.
Police officials also have expressed concerns on who to protect in case of emergencies.
“Our law enforcement personnel… are particularly troubled about the ability of our officers to differentiate between the bad actor and a person defending himself/herself and others when both have guns drawn,” Cigarroa said.
California state law prohibits concealed weapons on college campuses or near public schools. Utah is the only state that currently allows concealed weapons on college campuses. Ben Bradshaw, a sophomore mechanical engineering major at University of Utah, says that having concealed weapons on his campus is not much of an issue.
“To be honest, I don’t really notice it,” Bradshaw said. “I don’t feel threatened or scared.”
While Bradshaw does not have a CHL, he does have a few licensed friends who carry concealed weapons to class.
“My friends who have permits are really good at shooting,” Bradshaw said. “The people who have them are really into it.”
Bradshaw said that he has confidence in the ability and training of those who have a CHL.
“I feel more safe knowing that if there was a freak incident when somebody whips out a gun, another guy can pull out his concealed weapon and help the situation,” Bradshaw said.
To Bradshaw, Utah’s gun law brings an uneasy security on campus.
“It’s kind of comforting, kind of not,” Bradshaw said. “You never know who’s carrying a gun.”
SARAHNI PECSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.