The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee heard hours of testimony Thursday on four controversial “campus carry” bills, the latest episode in a recurring effort to remove gun-free laws around college campuses.
Higher education leaders have long opposed the idea, and former Sen. Jeff Wentworth—for years, its most ardent supporter at the Capitol—isn’t around to carry the banner anymore. A slew of conservative House members stood Thursday to take his place, though, including Conroe Rep. Brandon Creighton, The Woodlands’ Steve Toth, and Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake.
Professors, students, police, small business owners, concealed handgun license holders and others unloaded their thoughts on House Bill 972, HB 1313, HB 1078 and HB 706, all of which would let CHL holders carry guns to public university buildings and grounds. HB 1313 would let private universities opt-in. Current Texas law bans concealed weapons on all public higher education campuses.
The committee took testimony on all four bills at once, which still lasted more than four hours.
Claire Wilson James recounted the loss of her unborn child when Charles Whitman shot her and her boyfriend from the UT-Austin bell tower in 1966. John Woods, a senior at Virginia Tech during the 2007 massacre whose girlfriend was killed, advocated for background checks and said letting guns on campus is no solution to mass shootings.
Alex Ferraro detailed last year’s movie theater shooting in Colorado, giving a play-by-play of one victim’s last moments.
“What do you recommend should have happened in that theater?” Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) asked Ferraro. “If there had been 10 or 15 people in there armed … don’t you think somebody would have had a chance to do something rather than be defenceless?”
“Maybe, but if—” Ferrarro said, before Simmons cut him off.
“Maybe sometimes ‘maybe’ is all we need. Sometimes ‘maybe’ would have saved somebody’s life,” Simmons said.
After a few more heated lines Ferraro finally added, “I would say that it’s just as likely that it could have made it worse.”
Austin Police Assistant Chief Troy Gay said his department wouldn’t support letting students carry guns around campus. “We feel that it would just add more to the confusion,” he said. “There’s immaturity and there’s things that take place in these locations where our emotions sometimes might get the best of us.”
Rachel Malone, a musician and small business owner, recalled a night she walked alone across the UT-Austin campus. “I realized that it was actually my duty … to be prepared to defend myself,” Malone said. “It’s not about whether or not we want guns on campus—more guns or fewer guns. … It’s about our ability to protect ourselves.”
Michael Cargill, a small business owner and in support of all the bills, pointed out that he was carrying two licensed concealed handguns on him at the moment. He recounted how his 70-year-old grandmother went back to college to get her degree and was mugged and raped on the campus. “People will say that college universities are a sacred—it’s a sacred institution. It’s a sacred place. And so are churches. And we’re allowed to carry in a church,” he said. “This is about protection.”
Many witnesses passed out copies of their written testimony but Mary Dean with the Texas Faculty Association brought something more substantial. At a recent meeting faculty were told to “never let students get between them and the door,” Dean said, but it’s hard to do that in offices the size of closets, where the faculty desk is often facing the doorway. If these laws were to pass, Dean said faculty would be “sitting ducks” for any student with a concealed handgun.
“I brought a visual aid, which we are going to leave with you,” Dean said, as a helper passed out small yellow rubber duckies to the committee members. “All I ask is when you think about your vote, look at your duck,” she said.
All four bills were left pending in the committee.