The Texas state legislature is considering a bill that would allow concealed handguns on public college and university campuses. Although the bill is being proposed in a gun-friendly state, if it becomes law, it may fail the very people it is intended to help.
The reality is that students, the main constituents affected by the legislation, are at odds with guns-on-campus legislation. Six student governments representing more than 200,000 students at Texas’s largest public universities have all explicitly rejected the proposal.
Not all students in Texas are opposed. A petition circulating at private Baylor University has gathered more than 600 student signatures in support of the bill, SB 182. And the Student Senate at Texas A&M passed a conceal-carry bill for the campus last fall, overriding the veto of the student body president. Still, the override came despite referendums that showed opposition from the majority of students at Texas A&M – designated America’s most conservative university by the Princeton Review.
Opinion polls of students at the University of Texas San Antonio and Sam Houston State University also show that a majority of the students – and not just student governments – oppose concealed handguns on campus.
There is something wrong when legislators are not taking into account the needs and perspectives of the majority of people who are affected by a bill. That runs counter to the idea of representative government. And it’s poor policymaking.
Passing SB 182 in Texas would be particularly significant for gun culture on American campuses. Twenty-three states leave the decision of banning or allowing concealed weapons up to the public college or university itself. Utah stands alone among them as the only state that specifically says such institutions may not ban them. The Texas law would join Utah in forcing public universities to allow weapons on their campuses.
Texas isn’t alone in proposing concealed guns on public campuses. A similar bill was passed by the Arizona legislature in 2011 but the governor vetoed it. In the past two years 23 other states have introduced bills to put guns on campus or continued to debate pre-existing legislation on the topic.
Students at Texas universities, however, also aren’t alone in rejecting these measures. This month, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe signed a bill whereby public colleges and universities can choose to allow concealed firearms on their campuses. The University of Arkansas student government drafted and passed its own legislation opposing the bill.
Kansas is trying to pass legislation bringing concealed weapons onto campus, despite every public student government in the state passing its own opposing legislation. In Montana, the Board of Regents, which controls the state university system, is fighting against the state government to keep guns off campus.
Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell (R), who introduced SB 182, and those lawmakers who support him were not elected to impose their own political ideologies on the populace. They were elected to represent its interests and desires.
This is not always easy to determine, but in this case the facts are clear: An explicit majority of Texas university administrations, student governments, and students themselves do not want guns on their campuses. It is the Texas Senate’s job to respect and reflect that.
Texas SB 182 should also be defeated for policy reasons. In 2010, when a similar bill was brought onto the Texas Senate floor, two key Democratic senators withdrew their support because of expected increases in the cost of university insurance.
Dan Arguijo, spokesperson for Houston Community College, told the Texas Tribune in 2011 that liability insurance payments for the college could rise by as much as $780,000 to $900,000 a year. This is pertinent given that the new bill comes in the midst of sweeping budget cuts at Texas universities that have resulted in students collectively losing more than $56 million in needs-based financial aid grants.
The cost conundrum poses an interesting question that supporters of concealed handguns on campuses have to answer: Does the right to carry a gun and the perceived safety that comes with it outweigh the right to an education and a better life?
Higher insurance premiums also undermine safety arguments by the bill’s supporters. Rising insurance costs for having guns on campus means that insurance companies’ actuarial teams have scientifically and mathematically calculated that when guns are on campus, the rate of incidence will increase. So where is the safety advantage?
As state legislatures across America address concealed handguns on their campuses, it is important that they remember the negative cost and safety implications of such laws – and that they remember their jobs as representatives. They’re a conduit for the people’s voices, not their own.
Ali Breland is a student studying Plan II Honors and Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin. He is currently studying abroad at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey.