How Open and Campus Carry Survived the Legislature

Those familiar with Texas politics  have looked at the 84th Legislative session and said – “eh.” But there was one part of Texas law that really stuck out: gun control.

By Laura RiceJune 10, 2015 8:09 am|

Those familiar with Texas politics– something that renowned pundit Molly Ivins called the “finest form of free entertainment ever invented”– have looked at the 84th Legislative session and said – “eh.” Bills passed were unsurprisingly right-of-center (it is Texas after-all) but there wasn’t a big fight over abortion or education funding as in years past. There was one part of Texas law that did see some major tweaks: gun control.

Starting in September, Texans with concealed handgun permits will be able to carry their guns openly. And beginning in August 2016, permitted concealed handgun carriers will also be able to bring guns onto some parts of state college campuses.

The Texas Standard’s Laura Rice reports it’s that so-called “campus carry” legislation that got the most attention this session.

At first, there were three main proposals on the table: campus carry, open carry and constitutional carry. (That last one basically open carry on steroids.)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made clear from the start of the session that he was behind expanded gun rights. “If an open carry bill is passed by the house and senate and arrives at my desk, I will sign it into law,” he said.

But the subject of guns was–not surprisingly–without controversy.

Early on, there were displays at the Capitol by gun-toting supporters of both constitutional and open carry– including Murdoch Pizgatti, who’s with Come and Take it Texas. “We want to get away from the right to bear arms being a privilege. It’s not. It’s guaranteed as a right,” Pizgatti says. “It’s a civil right. It’s an inalienable right that shouldn’t have any taxes, fines, permits or licensing requirements.”

But many said constitutional carry supporters took things too far when they pressured lawmakers in their offices–like that visit to Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass), causing lawmakers of both parties to call for panic buttons in their offices–and to sport “I’m Poncho” stickers. Republican Rep. Drew Springer (Muenster) suggested it would not help the cause.

“It won’t move the needle one iota in their favor. It does cause folks like me who support open carry to shake their head,” Springer said.

There was also passionate opposition to gun bills. Danielle Vabner attends college in Texas. Her little brother was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Connecticut. “I came here sort of to heal and to kind of get a fresh start and it’s scary to think that guns could soon be on campus where I don’t think they belong,” Vabner said.

Although constitutional carry never made it to a committee, campus carry and open carry moved steadily forward.

For the most part, support for both bills was split along party lines. But a late amendment to open carry had some lawmakers switching sides. An idea nicknamed “cop stop” would have restricted police from asking a person with a gun if they had a license.

Joan Huffman (R-Houston) opposed that one. She cited the recent shootings in Waco blamed on bikers as an example of a situation that could have been made worse by this amendment. “Virtually when the police approached that scene, if they saw individuals, even in the area, with a gun on them, I guess under this amendment they would not be able to approach that individual and ask them if they were in fact CHL holders,” Huffman said.

Lawmakers decided not to include cop stop. Whether to stop a person carrying a weapon openly remains under an officer’s discretion: and the bill passed. But campus carry stalled in the house, until a few late amendments.

With only about 30 minutes to spare, lawmakers struck a deal that would ban guns from university health centers and hospitals and gives schools some leeway over exactly where on campus guns are and are NOT allowed. So colleges across the state are now taking a close look at the law and figuring out exactly what it will mean in each case.

The chancellors of the state’s largest university systems– the University of Texas and A&M originally came out on opposite sides of the campus carry issue–UT’s Admiral William McRaven was against it and A&M’s John Sharp said he wouldn’t oppose campus carry.

But now that the bill is law, their messages are basically the same.

“We will follow the law…. We have about a year to develop those policies,” UT-Austin President Greg Fenves says. “We will work closely with the chancellor. He’s been very clear in his views that campus safety is paramount and, ultimately, we’ll be proposing policies to the Board of Regents.”

The Texas Tech University System released a statement with similar language, but the details of exactly what the policy will look like on each campus is probably months away. Governor Abbott is expected to sign both bills. Campus carry will go into effect just in time for the 2016 fall semester. Open carry will be the law of the land come January.