Half an hour before midnight, when pending legislation would have died to legislative deadlines, the Texas House passed a measure that would expand concealed carry on college campuses. Though the measure passed with a bipartisan majority of (101-47), the road to passage was difficult, with the final product leaving some disappointed that good legislation was needlessly watered down to appease Democrats.
Enacting campus carry has been a goal of conservatives for almost a decade and always appeared to have widespread support on paper from lawmakers. However, it had been successfully killed in the previous three sessions and many thought it would once again fall victim to lawmakers manipulating the process.
Though a majority of Texans supported the move, the measure was opposed by a coalition of university administrators, Moms Demand Action, and student organizations led by the University of Texas at Austin. Standing in support of the issue were national and state gun organizations and Students for Concealed Carry on Campus along with the Texas A&M University Student Government Association.
In February, after UT Chancellor McRaven levied his opposition to the initiative, Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp offered his support of campus carry:
“Having licensed gun owners in possession of legal weapons on our campuses does not raise safety concerns for me personally,” Sharp wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “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!”
Passed by the Senate more than two months ago, Senate Bill 11, sponsored by State Sen. Birdwell (R-Granbury) and State Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), languished on Speaker Straus’ desk without seeing a referral to committee until the beginning of the month, a process we covered extensively. In doing so, Straus and his cronies successfully slow rolled the legislation in order to maintain the option of killing it if the conditions were favorable.
Buried deep on the calendar, the measure looked to be dead. However, with House Republicans likely to receive pressure by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Texas Senate, and grassroots Texans if they failed to act, the House chose to pass a substantially weakened version. “Republican” State Reps. Zerwas of Cypress and Sarah Davis of Houston tacked on amendments that would allow university regents to ban the practice on areas of campus and exempt wide swaths of campus altogether.
The amendments are expected to be poorly received in the Senate where conservative colleagues joined with State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) to reject similar amendments.
“Rights that are granted by God are ours to protect, they do not exist to be delegated to Boards of Regents,” said Birdwell.
Another bizarre amendment that was adopted mandates the practice at private universities (pending a vote by the Regents). Proponents of the bill had originally refrained from applying the mandate to private universities. They argued that on those premises, the same rules that apply to private businesses, which can opt-in or out should apply.
Given the support of Democrats on the amendment, the addition of this provision could serve as a poison pill as private university leaders who had been neutral on the bill will now be contacting lawmakers to lobby against the legislation.
“Tomorrow morning there are going to be a number of powerful people — maybe alumni, donors, board members — who are going to say we better get sensible, practical and realistic about our gun policies in the state of Texas,” said State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio).
The legislation will now return to the Senate. If the amendments are approved, the legislation will proceed to Gov. Abbott, who has promised to sign a campus carry bill that reaches his desk.