Despite some early antics that saw one open carry advocate get arrested for trying to enter the Capitol with a toy gun, and others being told they could not conceal their weapons with merely a sock, two controversial bills advanced out of the Senate Committee on State Affairs yesterday on a 7-2 vote. The dissenting votes were cast by Senators Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Rodney Ellis (D-Houston).
During the hearing Ellis issued a statement expressing his disappointment that even though there are “endless number of more pressing challenges,” such as education, healthcare and economic opportunity, that the Senate would take up SB 11 and SB 17 as their “first priorities.”
SB 11 by Senator Brian Birdwell (R- Granbury) would allow for the carrying of handguns onto campuses of college and universities both private and public. Under the law, private schools would be able to opt out after “consulting with students, faculty and staff,” a provision not afforded to public institutions.
Overwhelmingly, those who would be most affected by allowing guns in classrooms were against the idea. Numerous students and faculty testified that allowing guns in the classroom would disrupt the learning environment and erode the trust and relationship between students and educators, others also said that in general more guns on college campuses would make them feel less safe.
Proponents of the law said women needed to be able to protect themselves, while opponents argued that an attacker would more likely be able to overpower and take their weapon before the victim could use it for personal protection. One student testified that because she was not yet 21, she would still be barred from carrying a weapon and would not feel comfortable with her slightly older peers exercising this advanced right. That concept was not overlooked by gun advocates as at least one argued that the age limit to carry should be dropped to 18.
The new Chancellor for the University of Texas, former Navy Admiral Bill McCraven, sent a letter expressing his opposition to guns in the classroom which was repeatedly reference by others who shared his view. Chancellor for the Texas A&M system John Sharp, said he did not oppose campus carry, but that he only spoke for the campuses in his system. His flagship campus also boasts the nation’s “largest military Corps of Cadets outside the three major military service academies.” Sharp also said that despite the focus on guns, his number one priority was still higher education funding.
SB 17 by Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) is the “open carry” bill that still requires a license and training to publically brandish a handgun. It was seen as the bill that had more Republican support than that the more controversial “constitutional carry” bill SB 342 by Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) that is being pushed by the open carry advocates who caused panic at the Capitol after making threats towards legislators.
The rush to get the bills through committee is seen as appeasement to gun rights groups who have been sucking the oxygen out of air for most of the session so far. Unfortunately for those legislators attempting to appease them, many of the open carry advocates who testified were still unhappy that legislators were seeking to limit their 2nd Amendment rights with any type of government check, fee or approval. The leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, Kory Watkins, has single handedly been given credit for disrupting the progress of gun legislation after making threats to legislators online and in the Capitol. He took to Facebook after his testimony to explain his disgust that, “Senators talk about “rights” and having a CHL in the same sentence.”
The Vice Chair for the Texas Republican Party also testified to remind Senators that the Party platform supports “constitutional carry,” and voted to make the change a legislative priority.
It quickly became evident that open carry advocates felt slighted by anything less than a removal of all gun restrictions, but the committee members seemed to be equally unfazed by the testimony of gun violence survivors who asked that Senators reconsider liberalizing gun laws, or at a minimum offer local opt outs for campuses and municipalities. The national gun safety organization Moms Demand Action had several witnesses testify including one victim who was shot four times during the mass shooting that took place at Virginia Tech, another whose brother was killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and two others who claimed to be gun owners themselves.
Now that the bills are out of committee they will still have to wait until the 60th day (March 13th) to be heard on the floor unless 4/5 of Senators agree to take it up, or Gov. Abbott declares them to be “emergency” legislation. Abbott has already signed a copy of the “constitutional carry” bill, and continues to promote his online open carry petition.
Senators may be patting themselves on the back, (or wiping the sweat from their brow) but they should not expect to take any less heat from open carry advocates simply because they took one giant leap towards giving them what they want. The chicken have come home to roost, they have guns, and they don’t compromise.
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Watch full testimony here.