They walk around campus like any other student. They attend classes, take tests and play intramural sports like thousands of other Bearkats. Yet their decision to exercise one of the freedoms guaranteed to all American citizens sets them apart. Exercising this right, however, is something dear to their hearts and important to their values – something that will not easily be taken away.
They are the gun owners and Concealed Handgun License (CHL) carriers of Sam Houston State, and they have grown drastically in numbers in recent months. On the cusp of this rise in gun ownership across the nation, the Texas Legislature this month is considering a pair of bills to allow concealed handguns onto university campuses.
University Police Department Deputy Chief James Fitch opposes the legislation, saying the new bill poses a danger, not only for officers on college campuses, but also for the well being of the students they are supposed to protect.
“When there are so many people coming together, you don’t know how they’re going to react,” Fitch said. “Providing protection would be harder because our officers would have no way of knowing if a person has a gun. We would have to begin approaching everyone as if they had a gun; there are just too many possibilities for things to go bad.”
A CHL allows a gun owner to lawfully carry their weapon on their person, so long as it is completely concealed and undetectable.
According to the Texas Penal Code, Sec. 46.035, it is unlawful to carry a concealed handgun “on the premises where a high school, collegiate, or professional sporting event or interscholastic event is taking place, unless the license holder is a participant in the event and a handgun is used in the event.”
According to Subsection F, it is not illegal to carry a concealed handgun onto “any public or private driveway, street, sidewalk or walkway, parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio and currently awaiting debate in the Texas Legislature, would expand current laws to allow persons over 21 years old to carry concealed handguns onto college campuses. Similar bills were proposed in 17 states following the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. None of the states passed the proposed legislation.
SHSU graduate student and Texas State Rifle Association proponent Travis Miller agrees with the proposed legislation, saying he believes the strict enforcement of Texas’ gun laws provide a solid framework for expansion.
“Texas has strict rules already,” Miller said. “Guns must be completely concealed, you can’t even see the outline of the gun.”
In order to be eligible for a CHL, the gun owner must submit an application and attend an 8-hour course, according to Fitch. Applicants must be at least 21 years of age, have no felony convictions on their record, and submit an application, among various other requirements.
Bob Griffin, president of Students for Personal Safety at UH, supports the purpose behind the legislation – campus safety — but said that his organization only agrees with the bill if it actually achieves that goal.
“Let’s say everyone on campus gets to carry guns, do we really have increased security? No,” Griffin said. “But we do believe [allowing guns on campus] would deter mass shootings. Anyone who comes into a classroom with the idea of shooting people would have to think twice; there will be defense closer to the person shooting. We believe it would act as a base-level deterrent.”
Both Miller and Griffin agreed that the current laws are fairly vague, causing confusion on the part of students and creating a problem when drafting new legislation.
“The law is really not as clear as it should be, but in the end, the final word falls on your police department,” Griffin said. “It is really just a question of why the heck do we have something that says ‘gun free zone? Welcome, criminals.’ We are prohibiting the people who obey the law from carrying weapons while those criminals we are doing nothing about. They’re not going to follow the law anyway.”
While Fitch agrees that students have the right to protect themselves, in the end, he said the training required for CHL holders is simply not enough to warrant allowing those students (or faculty and staff) to carry their weapons on campus.
“I don’t think CHL’s are bad, but when on campus you bring the age level of carriers down,” Fitch said. “Training is the biggest part of it. Citizens have the right to train themselves, but they don’t have the training. It’s like we’d be opening Pandora’s Box.”