College Administrators – The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You!

Texans are watching to see if colleges follow the letter and spirit of the new campus-carry law.

Yet another so-called “Gun Free Zone” a/k/a “Defenseless Victim Zone” drove home the lesson that criminals by definition do not obey the law. Anyone who claims that a “no guns” sign will prevent a murderer from entering the location to take innocent lives is either a liar or so mentally unstable as to be incapable of handling their own affairs.

The 84th Texas Legislature took a step to deny mass murderers and other criminals some of the free-fire zones in which they prefer to carry out their deadly attacks on the helpless.  Though a misnomer, the “campus-carry bill,” SB11 passed and goes into effect on August 1, 2016 for Texas Colleges and Universities. (The Bill is effective for junior colleges on August 1, 2017.) The effectiveness of this new law in terms of preventing crimes on campus will be determined by the honesty of college officials.

What is “campus carry?”

 As noted, the term “campus-carry” is a misnomer in Texas as it implies that, prior to August 1, 2016, it is illegal for anyone to carry any firearm on a college campus. This has not been the case since 1995. People who hold a Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHLs), soon to be renamed License to Carry a Handgun, can carry concealed handguns all over campus. They simply cannot carry their self-defense handgun into school buildings. (School busses and some activity grounds are also off-limits.)

This is more than legal trivia. It shows the absurdity of the claim by some that CHLs who have a twenty year track record of being the most law-abiding segment of society will become irresponsible and homicidal simply because they stepped across a threshold and into a building. The experience of over 2,800 college campuses nationwide proves such claims to be groundless.

“Gun Free Zones” Are a Magnet for Criminals

To state the obvious, designating a school or any other area as a “gun-free zone” does not prevent criminals from entering to commit one-on-one crimes, or mass-murders. In fact, they encourage the very crimes they hope to prevent. Virtually every mass-murder has occurred in a location that was designated as a “gun-free” area either by law or by the property owner’s rules. To deny the overwhelming evidence of this fact is like denying that the sun rises in the east. The Texas Legislature has responded to this criminal magnet by changing Texas law concerning the carrying of self-defense handguns in college buildings, effective August 1, 2016.

Mass-murders are rare, but crimes against individual students are common.

Mass-murders are relatively rare occurrences, but due to media coverage, it is easy to focus attention on them when discussing “campus-carry.” The possibility that some students may be armed serves as a deterrent to a would-be mass-murder who wants to act with impunity. The actual presence of an armed student can thwart a murder attempt, or reduce the number of innocent deaths.

However, campus-carry is important not only in terms of preventing mass-murders on college campuses, but also in terms of prevention of crimes against individual students. Rapes, robberies, felonious assaults and even murders occur on college campus far more often than college administrators want to admit. No one is in greater danger than a female student walking to or from her car. The danger is even greater when she must walk alone and/or at night. Some argue that “she should call campus police and ask for an escort.” That claim is insulting because the people making it know full well that no campus has enough officers to escort every female student, much less all students, to and from their cars.

Though mass-murders on campus make the evening news for weeks after the event, prevention of crimes against individual students is a primary goal for campus-carry legislation.

History: The Battle to Remove Free-Fire Victim Zones

Schools are not the only so-called “gun-free zones,” but since 2009, colleges have been the focus of efforts to repeal the prohibition on carrying handguns in buildings. This battle has lasted for four legislative sessions for a total of eight years. During that time, so-called “gun-free” zones were proven not only to be ineffective, but deadly. The arguments against reforming Texas law to allow adults with a CHL to carry their self-defense handguns never changed. They have always been long on emotion and scare tactics, but utterly devoid of facts.

Gun control groups and supporters ignored the fact that a person must be 21 years of age to get a CHL. They continually promoted an Animal House image of rowdy drunken fraternity brothers, but with guns in their hands. Some college professors claimed/claim that their students are so mentally unbalanced that they may decide to shoot a professor in class because they are unhappy about a grade. These same professors were unable to explain why the mythical disgruntled students did not do that under current law, since murderers do not obey no-guns signs.

The 84th Legislature passed SB11 that brings to an end the long-standing law that prevents a CHL from carrying their handguns in college buildings. The Legislature, in an incredible demonstration of faith, granted a great deal of discretion to public college administrators to designate certain areas as so-called “gun-free zones.” (Unlike public schools, private colleges can render entire campuses off-limits.) The question to be answered is whether public college administrators will honor both the letter and the spirit of the law, or will they bite the hand that feeds them, as the old saying goes. This writer prays for the former but expects the latter.                     

SB11 Provisions

A full discussion of the entire Bill is beyond the scope of this article, so here are the basic provisions of SB11:

  1.  Private colleges can designate all of their campuses as “gun-free zones” if they wish, excluding parking lots. The procedural requirements for doing so are minimal;

  2.  Public colleges have to authority to designate areas as “gun-free zones,” but only after complying with much more stringent procedural requirements. (These areas cannot include parking lots.) One of those requirements is to submit a report to the Texas Legislature and certain Senate and House committees no later than September 1st of each even-numbered year. (100 days prior to the then upcoming legislative session.) The report must designate the areas that are “gun-free zones” and it must state the reason for such designation.

  3.  Public colleges cannot designate entire campuses as “gun-free zones” and they must meet other procedural and notice requirements.

Do Not Betray Legislative Trust

In an incredible show of faith, the Texas Legislature granted great discretion to public college administrators to determine if sensitive areas exist on campus in which the possession of self-defense handguns by CHLs should be prohibited. Many who had fought long and hard to being an end to “Free-Fire Victim Zones” were unhappy to see these provisions and do not trust college administrators with this level of authority. Since the legislature, powerful Second Amendment organizations and millions of law-abiding, gun-owning Texans will be watching, it would be unwise for college administrators to betray the trust exhibited by the Texas Legislature.

It must be noted that, although the Legislature granted wide but not unlimited authority, it also requires that a report to be submitted in even-numbered years. It is clear that the Legislature has taken a “trust but verify” approach and the actions of college administrators will be closely scrutinized. This scrutiny will be conducted not only by the Legislature, but also by people and organizations that never wanted public schools to be given authority to designate any areas as “gun-free zones.”

Where Should Handguns Be Prohibited?

This is an easy question to answer – nowhere. Undoubtedly, this statement will have anti-gunners’ heads spinning, but even some pro-campus-carry folks may raise an eyebrow. Before dismissing this premise, look at the supporting facts.

Criminals do not obey the law.

Criminals do not obey the law. They rape, rob, assault and murder people in spite of our laws. Texas and federal law prohibit convicted felons from walking around with guns, yet they do so every day in order to commit other crimes. The contention that a “no guns” sign or policy will prevent a criminal from entering a college campus or building would be laughable, were the consequences not so deadly.

The only people who will obey a “no guns” sign, policy or rule are the very people who do not pose a threat to anyone. Denying such people the ability to defend their own lives and/or the lives of other innocent people is not only unwarranted, it constitutes a callous disregard for human life.

Must show a compelling reason to prohibit self-defense handguns.

Since criminals will ignore “no guns” signs and policies and actually seek out so-called “gun-free zones” to commit their crimes, the only rational approach to determining whether an area should be designated a “gun-free zone”   is to focus on the location itself.

When making this determination, public college administrators must put aside the political ranting and hyperbole of self-absorbed professors and focus on facts. When deciding whether to designate a particular area as a “gun-free zone,” the controlling question must be “is there a compelling reason to deny CHLs the ability to defend themselves and others in this area?” What is it about the area under consideration that makes it risky? Handguns do not discharge themselves, nor do they jump out of holsters, so what is it in the environment that creates a threat? The only thing that comes to this writer’s mind is an MRI machine. That giant magnet could pull a handgun out of one’s holster and the MRI would likely be damaged.

The MRI example is intended to be humorous, but it is an excellent example of the concept. There must be something uniquely risky about the location itself, as opposed to the person carrying the handgun, in order to accurately designate it as a “sensitive area” justifying a designation as a “gun-free zone.” There are very few, if any, such locations on college campuses.

Concealed Handgun Licensees Post No Threat.

As noted in the preceding section, in order to justify a location as being appropriate for designation as a “gun-free zone,” there must be some extraordinary risk about the location itself, as opposed to the people who could carry handguns in that location. Twenty years of history with the Concealed Handgun License Program proves that Concealed Handgun Licensees do not pose a threat to public safety.Throughout four Texas Legislative Session, a handful of college professors testified under oath in committee hearings that their students are under so much stress, that they are unstable and would constitute a deadly threat to the professor, if they had a handgun. The stress of college life was just too much for them to bear and remain mentally stable. To state that such testimony was lacking in credibility would be an understatement. Many people in the committee room even chuckled every time such ludicrous statements were made by these professors.Texas Concealed Handgun Licensees are seventeen times less likely to commit a crime than is the general public, which includes the aforementioned paranoid college professors. They are also 21 years of age or older, sometimes much older. Most CHLs who attend college are married, working either full-time or part-time and many have children. (That is a far cry from the 18 year old college freshman that opponents want people to envision.) The “stress” of college life is nothing compared to the stress these law-abiding Texans deal with on a regular basis. The twenty year track record of CHLs is conclusive proof that they can handle stress.

It must be noted that the Legislature has already heard and rejected this argument, thus colleges must not focus on the people that will be carrying handguns as justification for designating any areas as a “gun-free zone.” This leaves only an examination of the location itself which brings one back to the MRI example/concept.

The 2017 Texas Legislative Session is Not Far Away

Texans can only hope that private colleges and universities will allow their adult students with a CHL to carry self-defense handguns. When it comes to public colleges and universities, Texans can do much more than hope. If college administrators flaunt and abuse the discretion granted to them by the Legislature, then the law can and likely will be changed in 2017.

None of their actions will enjoy the veil of secrecy. This writer will be issuing Open Records Requests to every public college and university that designates any area as a “gun-free zone” and the request will include, among numerous other documents, the statutorily-required report to be filed by Sept. 1st of each even-numbered year.

An analysis will be prepared and released to the public and it will be presented to each Committee Member that will receive college reports. The Legislature has traditionally taken a dim view of people and organizations that ignore legislative intent. Evidence of this can be seen with the passage of SB273 that creates a $10,500 per day, per sign civil fine for governmental entities and agencies that post unenforceable “no gun” signs.

College administrators must understand that their actions will be scrutinized not only by the legislature and others, but also by their students. Their institutions have a moral duty to be intellectually honest, not politically manipulative, as their actions will also send a message to students. Will administrators show respect for the rule of law and the will of the people as expressed through their Legislature, or will they play political games and try to find a loophole or try to justify their actions hyper-technical arguments? Remember, “the eyes of Texas are upon you!