As state legislators move closer to expanding gun rights at public colleges and universities, Lone Star College System officials conducted two public forums to educate the community on the proposed laws and gather feedback.

A March 31 forum at LSC-CyFair featured an overview of the two bills—House Bill 937 and Senate Bill 11—and a discussion of the pros and cons if they were to pass. The event was open to students, faculty and community members and drew hundreds of attendees.

“It’s an issue that people are passionate about on both sides,” said Mark Thorsby, forum moderator and chairman of the philosophy department at LSC-CyFair. “The goal is to engender dialogue rather than debate. We want people to speak to each other rather than at each other.”

Attendees formed groups and were asked to share opinions on whether they supported the expansion, opposed it, were undecided or neutral. They were also asked to discuss the merits of including a local control option, which would allow the LSCS board of trustees to ultimately control the extent to which gun rights are expanded at system campuses.

Such an option was not included in SB 11 when it passed in the state Senate March 19, but board members passed a resolution at an April 9 meeting calling for one to be included as an amendment if the bill is passed.

Attendees were polled upon entering the forum. Results showed 54 percent were against the expansion, 30 percent were for it and 16 percent were undecided. Results from a poll taken after the forum showed opposition increasing to 62 percent while support decreased to 28 percent.

The results  of the poll and discussions from the public forum will be considered by the board in the formation of future policies, LSCS board Chairwoman Linda Good said.

“If legislation passes providing a local option, we need to know where the community stands so we can make well-informed decisions,” she said. “If a local option isn’t included, we still have to figure out how to live with this law. Everything from hiring more police officers to training our employees in conflict resolution could potentially be a part of this.”

Bill details

If passed, HB 937 and SB 11 would allow individuals with concealed handgun licenses to carry a concealed weapon anywhere on public college or university campuses. Existing law allows concealed carry on college campuses but not inside buildings.

Citizens are required to be 21 years of age or older to obtain a CHL, which would exclude the majority of college students in the state. However, approximately 59 percent of LSCS students are 21 or older, according to demographic data.

“Everything from hiring more police officers to training our employees in conflict resolution could potentially be a part of this.”

—Linda Good, chair of the Lone Star College System board of trustees

SB 11, filed by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, was passed by the Senate along party lines and was sent on to the House of Representatives on March 20. HB 937, filed by state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, was referred by the Homeland Security and
Public Safety Committee March 5. A report on the bill was sent to Calendars April 15. The House is expected to be divided along party lines as well.

Proponents of the bill say its purpose is centered on self-defense, and add citizens should be able to protect themselves in threatening situations.

“If something bad happens on campus, I don’t want to be at the mercy of the criminals who aren’t going to abide by the law anyway,” said Jonathan Hamilton, a LSCS student and six-year Army veteran.

Opponents say it would make campuses more dangerous and negatively affect relationships between students and faculty.

“I watch my students to see how they’re doing, not to watch out for a weapon that might misfire or be pulled out,” said Roberta Short, an associate professor of English at LSC-CyFair. “I fundamentally believe this will create a cultural shift for faculty.”

The Senate bill includes provisions that make on-campus hospitals, sporting venues and day care centers exempt from the law. SB 11 would also grant universities immunity from lawsuits for the actions of a CHL holder on campus and allow schools to impose rules on the storage of weapons in dorms and residence halls.

An amendment to SB 17, which calls for open carry to be legalized statewide, specified open carry would still be illegal on college campuses even if both laws pass this session. SB 11 also allows private universities to opt out and continue with existing gun bans.