Concealed Handguns on Campus
New legislation could allow firearms on college campuses
By Virginia Stille
Photos by Nicole Alexander and Andrew Byrne
Time is running out for legislators to make a decision on whether handguns should be allowed in classrooms and buildings on campuses. The bill would allow handguns just about anywhere on the Texas Tech University campus. Many students and faculty say they would fear for their safety if the bill were to pass. The question at hand is safety vs. the Second Amendment.
In our society, many individuals are concealed handgun license holders who carry their handguns almost everywhere they go. Handguns are allowed on the premises of Texas Tech in parking lots, in front of buildings, in grassy areas, and in streets. However, guns are not allowed in Texas Tech's buildings or classrooms. If the proposed bill passes, they will be. A large number of people are pushing for this bill to be passed, including Texas Tech's chapter for Concealed Carry on Campus. Former United States marine and public relations officer for this chapter, Justin Wharff, said, "What we are trying to do is take back our personal protection. As Concealed Handgun License holders, we are allowed to carry virtually anywhere in the state, even the Capitol. However, we can't carry in buildings on campus where we spend most of our time? Something doesn't make sense. We view it as a life threatening hypocrisy that Texas Tech is a state-funded, state-sponsored university, but my rights go out the window once I step into campus."
The issue according to people who are in favor of this legislation is their individual protection. Carrying their own guns makes them feel safer in case of a school shooting. "My right to self protection has been taken out of my hands and put into the hands of people who cannot guarantee me personal safety," Wharff said. The chapter lobbies, petitions, and educates the public on this issue in hopes that state law will allow concealed handgun license holders to carry at public universities.
Many individuals who already are concealed handgun license holders say they are comfortable handling a gun. They have experience with carrying weapons, and many have been around guns their whole lives. "Most people are against it because they don't know what it is," Wharff said. "Statistics show that the crime level for concealed handgun license holders is extremely low compared to any other group."
If the bill to allow concealed carry on campus passes, Texas Tech police officers do not believe that the number of concealed handgun license holders will increase.
According to the Texas Concealed Handgun License Association (TCHA) the qualifications are: (1) be 21 years old, (2) have a clean criminal history, including military service and recent juvenile records, (3) must not be under a protective order, (4) must not be chemically dependent, (5) must not be of unsound mind, (6) must not be delinquent in paying fines, fees, and child support, (7) must be eligible to purchase a handgun by completing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) book, and (8) must complete required training. Officials also test the applicant's proficiency with the weapon. When an individual makes the decision to apply for a concealed handgun license, their rights of doctor-patient confidentiality are revoked. A class C misdemeanor, which involves being punished by a fine not exceeding $500, can prevent applicants from obtaining a concealed handgun license.
The concern for those opposed to the bill is often rooted in fear of school shootings. Jose Garcia, a junior construction engineering major said, "Playing the hero role shouldn't be enough to pass this bill. A lot of people say 'If I was there, I would have shot the guy'. People don't realize that playing a game is one thing, but a real life scenario is not the same, you don't know how you're going to react. This is a person's life that is at stake, not gun ranking on a video game." Many students and faculty believe that if this bill is passed, the legislation will generate extreme situations on campus. Free speech will become difficult to practice if the person you are having a confrontation or debate with is a concealed handgun carrier and may decide to reserve their comments. Although the handgun would need to be concealed on university premises, no one can guarantee that always will be. "It is hard to predict how you would react in a crisis situation, such as an active shooter, unless you have experienced it or you're there," said Kenny Evans, assistant chief with the Texas Tech Police Department.
The Texas Tech police department has one main concern: Officers want the details of the legislation to be comprehensive. Officers do not want any confusion between law enforcement and concealed handgun license carriers. The Texas Tech police department will be able to know exactly what measures to take in ensuring student safety around campus. Evans says, "We don't want our students to feel they are not safe if guns are allowed on campus. If this bill passes, there shouldn't be confusion on active shooter situations and guns on campus. Just because there are guns on campus does not mean we're automatically going to have an active shooter. Active shooter situations will happen regardless of what the law says. An active shooter is not looking at where he can or cannot legally carry a handgun to start shooting," Evans said.
With the intense debate of concealed carry on campus, the Texas Tech? The Police Department has taken a step into familiarizing students with a more thorough understanding of personal safety. Officers offer an active shooter training presentation, titled "Shots Fired: When Lightning Strikes." This video has detailed explanations about what steps to take to be safe, depending upon various situations. The information provided helps prepare students and faculty to plan the safest way out of a shooting situation. Some of the steps participants learn during the training are (1) figure out the situation and what's going on, where it's happening and who is doing it, (2) build awareness using all senses, quickly, while remaining calm, (3) trust one's intuition and do not wait for others to validate a decision.
Mark Miller, captain of operations with the Texas Tech Police Department, is one of the officers involved in the active shooter presentation trainings. "These trainings consist of what to do and how to protect yourself if a campus shooting were to occur. It does not, however, provide training with a gun. It is simply how to observe your surroundings and know what walls to hide behind, which doors to look for, and how to calm yourself as this dangerous situation is happening," he said.
The Student Government Association is not stepping forward on a final opinion on the issue of concealed carry on campus. However, the Student Government Association allowed the student body to disclose their opinions. A student poll was taken about the issue, but only 200 students participated. Most of them voted for concealed carry on campus, and the results from this poll were debated. "We're not necessarily taking a stance at the moment, I believe we are all just waiting to see whether it is going to get passed or not, and it is then when we will start to take action. We want our student body to feel safe and comfortable in their educational environment" Student Government Association President, Drew Graham, said.
The Texas Tech Police Department, along with the Student Government Association, expressed that they will be ready for whatever may come. Concealed handguns on university premises will remain a very sensitive issue. People will oppose or support this bill, but until a final vote is taken, the fate of concealed handguns on college campuses is yet to be seen.