By: Jonathan Garza, Mikhaela Locklear, Cooper Haynie and Melanie Price
The 2015 legislative session at the Texas State Capitol began with much anticipated campus carry legislation, which would loosen current regulations by allowing concealed carry of handguns in public university buildings.
In a vote along party lines the Texas Senate approved the bill, directing the legislation to the House and eventually to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Danielle Vabner, UT Austin junior, shares a picture of her 6-year-old brother Noah Pozner, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting. Vabner is an activist working to keep guns off college campuses.
While the approval was a disappointment to many Texas college students, it didn’t come as a surprise from the GOP controlled state legislature. If passed, the bill will allow concealed handgun license (CHL) holders, 21 and older, to take their firearms on public campuses and inside classrooms.
In 2010 a 19-year-old UT student, Colton Tooley, fired rounds from an AK-47 and turned the gun on himself while in the Perry-Castaneda Library.
Danielle Vabner, a UT Austin Junior, transferred to Texas after her brother Noah Pozner was the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Vabner was hopeful a fresh start would aid in her recovery. However, now she fears she will be on a campus with armed classmates.
“I certainly wouldn’t feel safe sitting in a classroom with someone that has a gun on their hip,” Vabner said.
If passed and signed by Gov. Abbott, any individual with a CHL would be able to carry loaded guns on public college campuses. However, private schools could still prohibit students from doing so, according to The Guardian.
Many UT students are hoping to amend the bill, by asking our state senators and representatives to allow individual universities to opt out. Rohit Mandalupu, UT Austin Student Government Vice President-elect, testified to the House Homeland Security committee in an effort to save UT from potential guns on campus.
“We at least want some sort of opt-out clause that private institutions get, we want ourselves to be able to make the decision essentially for if weapons should be allowed on campus instead of people sitting in a Capitol building where they don’t have as much stake as we do,” Mandalupu said.
The National Rifle Association has backed the bill to allow guns on Texas college campus, according to the Washington Post.
“I am proud of the fact that the Texas Senate is making history while defending life, liberty and our Second Amendment Right,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement praising the senate’s approval.
While students have come out in waves against the proposed legislation making its way through the Capitol, there are others on the UT campus who believe this is simply part of their right to bear arms and protect themselves.
College republicans, a UT campus organization has voiced their support throughout this year’s legislative session, even going as far as testifying in support to the Senate and House committees.
“College republicans definitely support concealed carry on campus, we believe it can provide students who have their CHL a way to protect themselves against any kind of crime,” said Bridget Guien, communications representative for college republicans.
The University of Texas Chancellor, retired U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven has repeatedly expressed his view on the issue. In a letter to legislative leaders McRaven adamantly expressed his opposition, his apprehension is rooted in concern for the safety of students, faculty and staff.
“There is great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals age 21 or older, will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds,” McRaven wrote.
Danielle Vabner wrote a letter to McRaven praising him for putting students and faculty first. Her letter was then published in the Austin American Statesman.
“Noah was a big fan of super heroes — he was always running around in a Spiderman or Star Wars costume. Although you wear an entirely different uniform, I know you will be a champion for preserving the safety of Texas college students,” Vabner wrote.
Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Emmanuel Garcia released a statement after the bill’s passing calling campus carry a “fringe issue.”
“This bill is yet another example of where the reckless priorities of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s Senate lie,” Garcia said. “Allowing guns in classrooms is dangerous and ill-advised. Texas Democrats share the concerns of thousands of parents, students, professors and administrators for this bill.”
Many college professors have spoken out against the bill, expressing concern for their safety as educators.
“I cannot imagine a young person having to go visit with a professor about possible being on probation, upset over a grade, or to discuss some contentious issue related to an assignment and having a gun easily accessible,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston.
Jeremi Suri, a UT professor in the LBJ school of public affairs and the Department of History, wrote in an editorial published in The Daily Texan:
“No one walks around our campus thinking: “I wish the students and faculty had more guns.” One of the characteristics that make our University grounds so pleasant is that violence, and the threat of violence, are almost nonexistent. Universities offer a free and open space where people can explore, interrogate and debate. They are designed to be places of scholarly interaction, free from all weapons. They should remain that way. We have witnessed college shootings in recent weeks and years, but more guns are only likely to create more fear and danger. I lecture to more than 300 undergraduates many mornings at 8 a.m. I count on the fact that they are not armed, and they count on the same from me. We are part of a special space for inquiry, removed from the violence and even the individual freedom of ordinary society.”
Several UT students and faculty members attended committee hearings at the state Capitol to express their opposition to the bill, many of which took place over the University spring break.
Concerned citizens watch a Senate committee hearing about SB11, the campus carry bill, on monitors from an overflow room in the Capitol annex.
Grant Wilson, a UT engineering professor is adamantly against the the bill and testified in front of the House committee on homeland security.
“There are numerous examples of students who are emotionally charged as a result of [grades] that they get,” Willson said. “If I look out there and see that they are all sitting out there with holsters and guns, I’m not sure I will have the guts to give a grade below a ‘B’ again. It’s just not a reasonable environment for teaching.”
Rohit Mandalupu also spent time at the Capitol, testifying on behalf of the UT student government, urging senators and representatives to allow universities to opt out of the bill.
Activists from both sides of the heated debate have voiced their opinions on social media under the hashtags #campuscarry and #txlege.
While the University has come out against the proposed legislation and the majority of Texans disapprove of firearms on college campuses, it’s safe to say the Texas Senate, House and Governor don’t seem to mind.
Photo courtesy of UT Rifle and Pistol Club
The bill would allow permit-holders — people 21 and older who have passed a background check and shooting test — to take their firearms on public campuses. However, private colleges and universities could still prohibit them.
72% of Texans don’t think college students should be allowed to bring concealed handguns to class, according to a poll from Everytown for gun safety.
Some students on campus feel it is their right to bear arms and be able to protect themselves on campus.
According to data from the university, more than 48,000 students were enrolled in classes this spring at the University of Texas. Of those, more than 56 percent of the students are 21 or older, making them of age to have a CHL, according to KXAN News Austin.
Some college students fear for their safety on campus if SB 11 is signed into law. Many worry the stress of college will contribute to more active shooter situations.
Danielle Vabner, UT student, spent last summer as an intern with Everytown, a gun safety movement. Since the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, CT, where Vabner's brother was killed, there have been at least 114 school shootings in America — an average of nearly one a week.
Vabner got a tattoo in honor of her deceased brother Noah. She believes he watches over her like an angel.