Saturday, November 17, 2012

Texas A&M student senate approves concealed handgun bill

Texas A&M student senators want handguns in classrooms, and with a little help from the Legislature, they might soon get their wish.

The student senate voted 38-19 Wednesday to ask A&M university officials and state lawmakers to permit concealed carry license holders to bring handguns inside university buildings, said Rusty Thompson, interim director of Student Activities.

Student Body President John Claybrook said he has not decided whether to sign or veto the senate's recommendation but wants to have a decision by Monday.

The student senate's "Texas A&M Personal Protection Bill," reads, in part: "Seeing a need for self-preservation against criminals, rapists and mentally unstable persons, we seek change in state law and Texas A&M University policy."

The students' concerns could make their way to Austin, where lawmakers have tried for years to pass the pro-gun measure through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, plans to introduce legislation next session to decriminalize concealed weapons on campus, according to his chief of staff, Ben Stratmann. Similar legislation has failed in the past two sessions, but proponents are hopeful that 2013 is the year concealed carry is allowed on campus.

Texas is one of 21 states that ban concealed weapons on campus. It's a felony under state law. Five states have provisions that allow concealed carry on campus: Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, and legislation is pending in two states.

In Texas, concealed weapons are only banned in university buildings or arenas, and can be carried in open areas, walkways and parking lots. The Texas Penal Code allows individual universities to permit concealed weapons, but no public university in the state has done so.

Additionally, the A&M student conduct code prohibits possession of all firearms on university premises or at any university-sponsored activity.

The Aggies' hopes for expanded gun rights already has the support of many legislators and lobbyists in Austin. Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association, said permitting concealed carry on campus is the group's No. 1 goal for the upcoming session.

"It could have been realized every session," Tripp said. "There was no logical reason for it to be lost in 2009 or 2011. It's not like anti-gun won over pro-gun. It was not anything you could put your finger on."

Tripp said concealed carry holders exercising their rights on campus will make universities safer.

"College campuses are predator magnets, and we're talking about an individual who has a license," Tripp said.

Larry Arnold, a board member of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association, agrees.

"When we look at all of these mass killings, every one of them seems to happen in a place we're not allowed to carry," Arnold said.

Concealed handguns are commonplace at restaurants, shops and public places, he said.

"Are you comfortable off campus?" Arnold asked. "That's the way it would be on campus."

But while gun advocates and A&M students propose relaxing state gun regulations, there's one group notably gun shy -- university professors.

Walter Daugherity, speaker-elect of the A&M faculty senate, said the group hasn't addressed the topic recently but previously rejected the idea of guns in classrooms.

"The primary [concern] is the safety of everyone on campus, which is the responsibility of the university police department and the administration," Daugherity said.

Daugherity noted the faculty were not unanimously opposed to the idea but that the "great majority" were.

A fear of many professors, he said, is that guns introduced to an environment with stressed and pressured young adults could turn volatile.

"If there is such a situation, then the presence of a weapon might make it worse," Daugherity said. "It could be anything; it could be bad grade on a test, a breakup with a girlfriend or family problems that could trigger an emotional outburst or breakdown."

A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said if the state law changed, the university would comply.

"The safety of our students, faculty and staff is always our top priority," Loftin wrote in an emailed statement. "We have highly trained campus police to help ensure our campus is safe, and I have complete confidence in their ability to do so."


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