Faculty lobbyist Mary Dean responded to Texas State students and faculty members’ opposition of campus carry legislation at an open forum Monday morning.
Senate Bill 11, otherwise known as the campus carry bill, passed in the 84th Texas Legislature in June and is set to be implemented at public universities next fall.
“When this started, I didn’t have gray hair,” Dean said. “Sitting through the campus carry legislation has been an experience.”
She said Texans who chose not to vote in elections are the reason the “political water turned Republican” and allowed campus carry to pass, despite the strong presence of the legislation’s opponents.
Michel Conroy, chair of the Campus Carry Task Force, believes the legislation is not merely the result of tragic current events.
“I don’t think this is a reaction to the mass shootings,” Conroy said. “There is a gun culture in Texas…the political culture and the gun culture in Texas are responsible for this.”
Dean said the coming legislation could be even harder to contend with because some of the supporters are leaving.
Dean spoke from firsthand experience when she addressed educators at the forum hosted by the Texas Faculty Association. She is the only paid faculty lobbyist in the state of Texas.
As campus carry slowly made its way through the Texas Legislature, Dean was at the Capitol tracking the bill’s progress.
According to public data on the Texas Legislature’s website, a bill allowing concealed carry was first introduced approximately six years ago during the 82nd legislative session. Republican House Representative David Simpson introduced the bill, which was then called House Bill 86.
HB 86 died in the House committee, according to the data. Two months later, a companion bill, Senate Bill 358, also failed and was followed by yet another bill that never made it out of the House.
“When I sat through HB 86 people were just laughing,” Dean said. “Going into this most recent session, people were still saying it would never happen.”
Dean said there were so many campus carry supporters at the Capitol during the last legislative session, multiple overflow rooms had to be used.
“I was the only one not in the favor of guns in the room,” Dean said. “I felt like I was in a National Rifle Association meeting.”
Nineteen Republican congressmen authored the version of campus carry legislation that was passed last summer.
Dean said SB 11 had two failed amendments that would have allowed people to carry concealed handguns without a license and lowered the minimum age to obtain a license from 21 to 18. She is afraid these proposals will make a reappearance during the next legislative session.
“Every one of you should go visit your representative and let them know what you think,” Dean said. “Call them—not just once, but once a day.”
Dean said faculty members are not allowed to use the university’s phones or computers to contact their representative or to research the bill.
“The Legislature says they don’t hear from faculty enough, but by law, unless we are invited to testify, we are not legally allowed to speak on a day that we have classes or meetings,” said Elizabeth Skerpan-Wheeler, president of Texas State’s chapter of TFA.
Dean said members of the Texas State University System have to be careful regarding the establishment and implementation of campus carry.
If public universities try to minimize the impact of the bill, legislators have threatened to take away all university discretion that gives officials the ability to determine which campus buildings will be gun free zones.
Skerpan-Wheeler said the bill did not originally allow for “carve-out” zones. “Carve-out” is the terminology used to refer to zones on the university where guns will not be allowed.
The current language of the bill allows for carve-out zones, but only if they do not hinder an individual’s ability to carry on campus and are reasonable, Skerpan-Wheeler said. However, the legislature did not give any definition of what is considered reasonable.
“You’re talking Brian Birdwell (the author of SB 11) reasonable,” Dean said. “Do you know Birdwell? If not, you’re lucky. His version of reasonable won’t be yours.”
Dean said it is illegal for faculty to deny students the right to carry in their classrooms or offices.
“We are in an environment where you can pretty much count on any pushback (against the implementation of campus carry) getting some kind of repercussion,” Skerpan-Wheeler said.