Gun rights took center stage on Thursday as the Senate State Affairs Committee conducted hearings on legislation that would expand the rights of Texans. After hearing testimony throughout the entire day, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted on a party line of 7-2 to advance SB 11, sponsored by conservative State Sen. Brian Birdwell. Also known as the Personal Protection Act, SB 11 would allow the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses.
Concealed carry on campus has been a priority of conservative student organizations, such as the Young Conservatives of Texas, for years. Other student groups, such as the Texas A&M Student Government Association, have aligned in support of the issue for a number of years as well. One student, Chris Woolsey, testified in support of the bill.
“Administrators and professors squawk loudly that students can’t be trusted with firearms. For some reason nobody seems to argue that is the case at a restaurant across the street where students and other upstanding citizens carry every day,” said Woolsey.
Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp also gave his support on the measure.
“The real question is this: ‘Do I trust my students, faculty and staff to work and live responsibly under the same laws at the university as they do at home?’ Of course I do!” said Sharp.
Former liberal senator and current Texas Tech Chancellor Robert Duncan testified that the system would not oppose campus carry, but would be in favor of the decision being left to the Board of Regents, prompting a sharp rebuke by State Senator Birdwell, the sponsor of the legislation.
“Rights that are granted by God are ours to protect, they do not exist to be delegated to Boards of Regents,” said Birdwell.
Other university systems also testified that they would not oppose the legislation, with one exception, Chancellor McRaven of the University of Texas. McRaven was invited to testify before the committee, but was unable to do so—likely preoccupied with damage control from the latest report on UT President Bill Powers.
The passage of campus carry gives a clear indication that the Texas Senate has undoubtedly become more conservative and more willing to lead this session.
The votes existed in theory in the last session, but the effort to pass was blocked by the 2/3 rule—not by liberal Democrats, but by weak-kneed Republicans who asked Democrats to kill the bill without their fingerprints. Though it isn’t known exactly which Republicans they were, the replacement of moderates such as State Sens. John Carona and Bob Duell with conservatives like Don Huffines and Bob Hall surely benefitted the measure.
Earlier this session, under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the Senate struck a heavy blow against the 2/3 rule. The speed with which the Senate set to work to move campus carry forward clearly demonstrates the magnitude of the victory in the rule’s repeal.
The passage from the committee and on to the floor, the first legislation this session to do so, makes the level of priority clear on both measures. Lt. Gov Dan Patrick took to Facebook to celebrate the advancement of the bills.
“I promised we would pass Open Carry and Campus Carry,” said Patrick “We are now one step closer to passing these two historic bills out of the Senate.”
With the legislation fast tracked in the Senate, the duty will soon fall on the House to pass the measure into law. Far from a friendly environment, gun rights will then be up to Speaker Straus, who has worked with his allies and Democrats to kill the legislation in previous sessions. The old “explanations” and “justifications” won’t work—there’s no excuse for politicians this session. Conservatives will have to work hard to make their voices heard and hold their representatives accountable.