Lawmakers in Texas and Arkansas on Thursday filed legislation to allow citizens on public college and university campuses to carry concealed weapons, according to Campusreform.org.
The legislation comes in response to President Barack Obama's gun control proposals, announced last week, that would reinstate a ban on assault weapons, require criminal background checks on all gun sales and limit a gun’s magazine size to 10 rounds, among other things.
The Texas bill was co-authored by 14 Republicans, including Sens. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). It would not only allow for the concealed carry of a registered handgun but also would restrict a state university's ability to approve internal policies in opposition to the law.
"For me, this isn't just about the firearm," Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), another of the bill's sponsors, told the Dallas News, "It's about trusting citizens with their God-given, constitutional rights."
University of Texas President William Powers Jr., however, opposes the law, saying that concealed weapons wouldn't make the campus safer. His spokesman told the Daily Texan, "He is not in favor of legislation that allows guns on campus. He does not believe it would enhance safety on campus."
While Powers did not sign a petition circulated by College Presidents Calling For Gun Safety after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 students and six adults in Newtown, Conn., Powers did sign another letter to the president, signed by fewer college presidents, asking for a more moderate response that would prevent gun violence by focusing legislation in three areas: gun control, care for the mentally ill and violence in media.
UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo told the student newspaper that UT system Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa also opposes the proposed legislation. He voiced concerns over similar measures proposed in the 2011 legislative session in a letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). LaCoste-Caputo says Cigarroa's stance has not changed.
Then and now, supporters of the legislation said responsible gun owners acting in self-defense would make the campus safer.
The debate is sure to intensify as the legislation also precedes a shooting at Lone Star College in north Houston, Texas, by less than a week. On Tuesday, shots were fired after a verbal altercation between two students turned violent. It's unclear at present whether either or both of the students involved had concealed-carry licences.
The Statesman reports that state Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) first filed a campus-carry bill after a gunman on the UT campus opened fire with an assault weapon before killing himself. No one but the gunman was injured.
"If he had had a big gun to shoot people, I would hope ... a [concealed handgun license] holder would have been able to stop him from turning it into a Virginia Tech-style tragedy," Simpson said, referring to the 2007 massacre in which 33 were killed. He filed on the first day of the next legislative session.
Cigarroa countered in a letter to Perry, explaining that campus law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, faculty members, students and parents all expressed their concerns that handguns would make UT more dangerous. He said mental health professionals feared a spike in student suicides, and law enforcement feared that they would be unable to distinguish a "bad actor" from a person acting in self-defense.
The Associated Press reports that Rep. Danny Altes (R-Fort Smith) introduced the Arkansas bill, which would "allow faculty and staff ... to carry concealed handguns on campus."
The National Conference of State Legislatures said 18 states introduced legislation to allow concealed weapons on campuses in 2011. Two bills passed, one in Mississippi and one in Wisconsin.
The Mississippi law allows people to carry weapons only if they have taken a voluntary course on safe handling and use of firearms by a certified instructor. The Wisconsin legislation allows for concealed weapons on campuses, but allows individual buildings to restrict them.
In 2012, the NCSL records 16 states having introduced legislation to allow concealed carry. Two bills are pending, and the rest have failed.