By Joanna Armstrong
On Feb. 13, over 100 people walked up the steps into the Texas State Capitol and took the stage before the Senate, pleading with their lawmakers about two different bills on the same polarizing issue.
While Senate Bill 17 deals with open carry in Texas, Senate Bill 11 seeks to make carrying firearms on state-funded college campuses legal.
Filed by Brain Birdwell, R-Grandbury, Senate Bill 11 would allow individuals with concealed handgun licenses (CHL) the right to also carry their handguns onto college campuses.
The bill, which has been endorsed by 19 senators, says it “affirms private property rights by ensuring that independent or private universities may establish rules concerning CHL-holders on their campuses…” Though House Bill 937 adds a provision that schools may not put in place rules to penalize those with weapons on campuses, it says that colleges may establish rules regulating firearms in dorms and preventing them in hospitals affiliated with the school and at sporting events.
Private colleges would not be mandated to comply with the bill.
After a nine-hour hearing, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed the bill on to the full Senate, with a 7-2 vote.
As quoted in several news sources, Birdwell said, “For me it isn’t just about the firearm; it’s about trusting individuals with their God-given, constitutional rights.”
Collin Goddard, one of the victims shooting, testified at the hearing against campus carry saying, “We survivors do not think that it is a good idea to have guns on campus.”
The legislation has the backing of the Texas State Rifle Association (TSRA) and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The TRSA’s website cites examples of past shootings at the University of Texas and Texas A&M and asks for support for the bill.
“The TSRA – the state-affiliate of the NRA – and our 45,000 Texas members strongly support Senator Birdwell and his legislation allowing adult Texas concealed handgun licensees to have this option for personal protection with them in their vehicles, on campus property, and in the classroom,” Alice Tripp, Texas State Rifle Association Legislative Director, stated on the website.
While the lawmakers in Austin discussed the safety issues that come with allowing weapons on campus, some of the Northeast administration, faculty members and students have been doing the same.
“I guess one way to think about this is to ask the question “safer from what?” NTCC President Dr. Brad Johnson asked.
“If we’re talking about being safer from just personal violence between people, fights or rapes or other things like that, then having more guns on campus could make us less safe because the lethality that might take place in a fight would be much greater if one or both of the people in the situation were armed,” he added.
Another of Johnson’s concerns was dorm safety. Although the legislation says that colleges would have the right to put regulations in place concerning the storage of guns in residential areas, Johnson still voiced some concerns.
“What responsibility do we have to provide students who might be authorized to possess a weapon, to provide them a secure place to store those weapons?” Johnson asked. “What responsibilities would we have because none of our facilities are designed to conform with an environment where a significant number of people are carrying weapons?”
NTCC students are also debating this controversial issue among themselves.
“With the proper training and with the right head on your shoulders, you could actually save lives if someone came on campus shooting,” said Northeast student Ryan Spigner. “This is not someone wanting to do harm. It’s to protect themselves and their fellow classmates.”
Despite some positive feedback on the issue, not all students like the idea of campus carry.
“I’m against it because basically you’re putting weapons in the hands of people who aren’t socially or mentally capable of that firepower,” NTCC student Elliot Peoples said.
He went on to say that in a shooter situation, having multiple people equipped with guns would make it harder for law enforcement to differentiate between the shooter and the victims.
Continuing along the same line, Northeast Security Director Russell Taylor said, “The police officer shows up on the scene of an active shooter and you have somebody in civilian clothes holding a firearm, it’s not going to be a good day for that person.”
Richard Jones, director of Northeast’s Police Academy, said that while the bill might change a peace officer’s mindset about guns on campus, it would not change their response in an active shooter situation.
NTCC Criminal Justice Professor Leonard Newman said the officers are trained to handle these types of situations.
“Before, the general citizenry said we are not really judge, jury and executioner. We’re police officers,” Newman said. “We enforce the law, but because of the devastation that an active shooter leaves behind, police officers will respond to that. We’re to surgically take them out.”
Though the two admitted their reservations about the bill’s approval, they were quick to point out the importance of personal protection.
“I think it’s the personal responsibility of everyone to be their own protector,” Newman said.
Jones added that along with gun ownership comes the need for individuals to learn how to handle a weapon.
“You need to look at a gun as if it were a garden tool. That’s all it is,” Jones added. “It’s just a tool that you can learn to use effectively and safely.”
NTCC Sociology Professor Windell Doddy disputed Birdwell’s claims that these were “God-given, constitutional rights.”
“I’ve never heard that God said, ‘Go forth and get a pistol,’” Doddy said. “History is replete with college murders.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), if the bill passes, Texas would become the eighth state to allow campus carry, following Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, Colorado, Mississippi, Utah and Wisconsin. The NCSL also reports that 20 states, including Texas and California, ban carrying a weapon onto a college campus, while 23 states allow the individual institutions to decide.
Though the argument continues in Austin and on the Northeast campus, Johnson said it comes down to one question.
“I do believe that all U.S. citizens who have not violated the law in some way have a right to apply for and possess weapons,” said Johnson. “The question is whether we are allowed to possess them everywhere or whether there is some kind of reasonable boudnaries.”