Rio Grande Valley Legislators Support Concealed Carry on Campus

Blog / April 5, 2009

Well, all but three.

Thank y’all for supporting the right to concealed carry on campus.

From the Monitor:

Holders of concealed handgun licenses could bring their weapons to college campuses if Rio Grande Valley lawmakers have their way.

A proposal working its way through the state Legislature would lift a ban on handguns on campuses of both private and public institutions.

Proponents of the bill view it as a way to preserve gun owners’ rights while promoting safety on campus, arguing that if students or staff on campus had weapons, they would have a better chance defending themselves against a Virginia Tech-style shooting.

Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, one of the bill’s co-authors, said he views the measure as a "defensive mechanism" at universities.

"Those who were there didn’t have the opportunity to defend themselves," Flores said of the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007, in Blacksburg, Va., and another shooting Feb. 14 last year at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. "I want to be able to say, ‘Hold up – give me a chance.’"

Guns are prohibited at schools, hospitals, places of worship and sporting events, among other venues.

Supporters of the legislation, like Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, say while security personnel can easily protect people in confined spaces like courts and schools – where guns are banned – the same can’t be said for large campuses.

"In a campus, it’s different," said Hinojosa, who was arrested in 2005 on charges that he tried to bring a 9 mm handgun onto an airplane. The charges were ultimately dropped.

"It’s huge," he said of the campus environment. "It’s open."

Eight Valley legislators have signed up as supporters of the Senate and House versions of the bill.

But the measure faces opposition from universities themselves.

Officials from the University of Texas-Pan American aren’t saying much about the plan. The provost, interim president and interim campus police chief did not return calls seeking comment for this article over the course of two days.

A statement released by the University of Texas System, however, expressed concern about the prospect of guns on campuses.

Though most college students are legally adults, they are still maturing and are often subject to stress that can lead to depression, substance abuse and other mental health issues, the statement says. Bringing guns into that environment could be dangerous.

Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College, said she also opposes the legislation and believes security should be left to the professionals. Although concealed handgun licensees may know how to use a weapon, they are not versed in how to make the judgment of whether to fire it, she said.

"I don’t think it’s a very effective solution to the challenges we’ve had," Reed said. One STC security guard and three students were injured in 1998 when someone walked onto the campus during student registration and started shooting.

Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, is also an opponent of the plan. She is one of the three Valley lawmakers who haven’t signed on to it. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, are the others.

"I strongly believe in the right to bear arms," Gonzales said. "But there’s a time and a place for it."

She cited a slew of concerns about the measure, such as the potential liability universities would have for a campus shooting. She also said universities would be sending the wrong message to students by allowing guns.

"A school should be a peaceful environment," Gonzales said.

Students at UTPA also seemed skeptical of the proposal. This week, the school hosted its student body elections. On the ballot, students were also asked whether they supported the legislation.

Based on early results – they had not been fully tabulated as of Friday afternoon – 83 percent of respondents opposed it.

"I think it would cause more problems," said Cynthia Zamora, a UTPA senior familiar with the legislation.

Marcos Silva, the student body president, said students have told him that if they knew a classmate had a gun, they would be more likely to focus on that person than what a professor was saying.

The legislation’s biggest support comes from Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a nationwide group pushing similar measures across the country. Eight other states have pending legislation that would allow guns on campus, according to the group.

Supporters of the bill stress it wouldn’t allow just anyone to bring a gun on a campus – it would be limited to the state’s 314,574 concealed handgun license holders.

Licensees must be 21 or older – so many underclassmen would not be eligible. They also must pass background checks and complete at least 10 hours of training, among other requirements.

Daniel Crocker, Texas director of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said license holders have demonstrated themselves as responsible, law-abiding citizens who are highly unlikely to commit crimes.

And he doesn’t buy the argument that a college is a unique place that should be free from guns.

"It’s more about the issue of personal protection," said Crocker, a paramedic student at Blinn College in Bryan. "If someone has the right to protect themselves everywhere else, there’s no reason they should lose that right to self-defense and protection when they cross an invisible line."

Already, 74 members of the House have signed on in support of the bill – just one shy of half the body.

The bill is currently pending in the House’s public safety committee and the Senate’s state affairs committee.

Rep. Aaron Peña, whose district includes UTPA, is also among the backers of the bill.

He said he hasn’t had any feedback from university officials about it.

His motivation for supporting the legislation is primarily his desire to protect gun owners’ rights, he said.

"If the law permits it for adults, with licenses … what is the problem?" said Peña, D-Edinburg. "We’re not dealing with children here. We’re dealing with adults."

The Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) are also supporting the measure to allow concealed carry on campus.