Here’s a simple question: How many parents with children attending San Antonio public schools, colleges and universities would support a proposed law allowing hidden handguns on campus and in the classroom? My guess? Very few.
Ask university presidents and school superintendents – I have spoken with a number of them here and around the state – and they express unanimous opposition to the idea, and are frustrated that bill sponsors continue to ignore their strong opposition to such a simplistic approach to a very complex challenge to random on-campus violence.
Interest in this issue and the broader debate over gun control laws and the sale of military-style assault weapons spikes with each new campus incident, from the 1999 Columbine High School massacre to last month’s shocking spree at a Newton, Conn. grade school where 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 young children and six teachers, including his mother.
The 83rd Texas Legislature convenes Jan. 8, and among the many bills filed in advance of the session, lawmakers will once again consider bills permitting administrators, teachers, students 21 and older, and other adults to carry hidden weapons on school campuses. One proposed bill, HB 223 by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, would allow school trustees, superintendents, and anyone else present on official business to pack heat while attending monthly school board meetings. Does that mean reporters, too?
San Antonio’s recently ousted state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, perhaps sensing his inevitable demise as a moderate Republican in the age of tea party politics, led the unsuccessful charge to pass a guns-on-campuses bill in the 2009 session. The bill passed the Senate, but died in the House. Wentworth gave it the old college try yet again in 2011. It failed a second time, although bill watchers thought it had a serious chance of winning passage when the session began.
Wentworth went on to lose his District 25 senate seat to Donna Campbell, a tea party favorite and emergency room physician from New Braunfels, who is one of the reasons a returning Senate will be even more right-wing than the one that included Wentworth. Wentworth, 72, was recently appointed by Bexar County Commissioners to fill a vacant justice of the peace office.
Wentworth’s bill looked like it had a real shot at the start of both the 2009 and the 2011 sessions. State legislatures across the nation were debating such laws in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre in which a lone gunman killed 32 and wounded 17 in the nation’s worst-ever killing spree by a lone gunman. The pro-gun lobby had targeted Texas as a state ripe for such a law.
If any single voice against the Wentworth bill helped stop it in its tracks the last time around, it was that of University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who sent Gov. Rick Perry a letter opposing the bill in February 2011 that was made available to the press.
“I must concur with all the concerns and apprehensions expressed to me, that the presence of concealed weapons, on balance, will make a campus a less-safe environment,” Cigarroa wrote in the letter to Perry.
Perry is a strong supporter of the National Rifle Association(NRA), the national gun industry lobby, which recently launched the National School Shield, the NRA’s still-developing program to promote more armed guards in schools. Shortly after last month’s Newton, Conn. massacre, Perry delivered a speech to tea party supporters in a Fort Worth suburb and urged an expansion of gun carrying rights in Texas. School districts, Perry said, should be allowed to decide locally what policies govern authorized gun possession on school campuses.
“One of the things that I hope we don’t see from our federal government is this knee-jerk reaction from Washington, D.C., when there is an event that occurs, that they come in and they think they know the answer,” Perry said, according to The Associated Press.
And only one week after the Connecticut shootings, newly elected state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, announced plans to introduce the Protection of Texas Children Act, a bill he said would permit qualified teachers at Texas public schools to arm themselves on campus and in the classroom. The bill would allow districts to deploy teachers and others as trained “school marshalls” to act as a deterrent, or if necessary, a shield, against would-be attackers.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told the Austin American-Statesman last month that he expects bills to pass this session legalizing gun possession on public school and college campuses:
“There’s very serious concern right now about the safety of our schools, and I think we’ll have a very serious discussion about how to improve it, as we should,” said Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which approved the guns on campus bill two years ago before it failed in the House.
“I’d be surprised if the campus-carry bill doesn’t come up again, and it may pass. To say that (concealed handgun license) holders increase the likelihood of violence on college campuses is nuts. Right now, its only the bad guys who have guns on campuses — and there’s some sentiment that if someone would have had a gun, they could have put a stop to the tragedy.”
Americans polled on the issue seem more concerned with reinstating an assault weapons sales ban and tightening gun laws to prevent the mentally ill and others from buying firearms and ammunition, with much less support being expressed for laws that make it easier to carry guns on school campuses.
Texas passed a law in 1995 allowing citizens who are approved for a state permit to carry concealed weapons, and today, well over half a million adults have concealed handgun licences, known as CHLs. That number is expected to rise rapidly as individuals who fear more restrictive federal legislation rush to purchase weapons and apply for CHLs.
Read my article on the coming 83rd Texas Legislature, published Jan. 1, 2013, here.
Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.