Official challenges concealed-weapon bill before Texas House

A proposed bill that would allow students, faculty and staff to carry concealed firearms on campus is facing opposition from a university official who visited Austin to sway the Texas Legislature from passing the bill.

Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs, said he opposed the bill before the Public Safety Committee of the Texas House of Representatives on Monday. The bill needs 76 votes to pass, and as of Monday, there were 71 co-authors.

Mills said he cited four reasons for his opposition in front of the Public Safety Committee.

If there were an altercation involving multiple guns and police responded, it would be unclear who was the victim and who was the perpetrator, Mills said. Currently, police are trained to eliminate every threat, he said.

Mills’ second reason involved on-campus theft. He said that if a student were carrying a gun in his or her backpack and it was stolen, there would be an unlicensed person in possession of a handgun. He said handgun training is limited and doesn’t teach those who are licensed how to respond to emergency situations in the same way a military or police-trained user would know to respond.

Mills said he also told the committee that research shows an impulse control problem with people under the age of 25 because of brain development. He said this, in combination with drinking and partying, which are common to all college campuses, could be dangerous.

The suicide rate of college students was the final point of opposition, Mills said. He said he told the committee that 1 percent of college students attempted suicide every year, and the number of successful student suicides is half that of non-students in their age group because the students don’t have access to weapons.

Mills said college education is a time of give and take.

“People are living very close together; there’s a lot of stress, there’s a lot of tension and I think having any kind of weapons introduced into the mix just makes it potentially that much more difficult and potentially unsafe,” Mills said.

Mills said others expressed opposition on the basis that the legislation should not be making campus rules for private campuses.

He said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which coordinates the Texas public higher education system, remained neutral but still expressed concerns about the legislation. Other private schools present that opposed the bill included LeTourneau University in Longview, Rice University, Baylor University and Southwestern University.

Students from several other institutions also spoke both for and against the bill, Mills said.

Mills said it’s possible the final bill would allow private institutions to make their own decisions on this issue, and he said if that is the case, the university would go to its governing board for a decision.

“If our campuses were dangerous, that is, if we were having a lot of violence on the campus, then maybe the argument that people need to be able to defend themselves would make more sense to me,” Mills said. “But I don’t see that.”

The Student Government Association House of Student Representatives also voiced its opposition to the bill by passing a resolution Tuesday night that opposed the handgun legislation in Austin.

Justin Brown, chairman of the student relations committee, authored the resolution in order to promote an open dialogue between the Texas Legislature and the university.

“The student voice needed to be heard.” Brown said. “By vocalizing it we would be able to let the legislators know that we wanted to be included in the conversation, and that we have an opinion on the matter.”

Representatives debated the resolution for almost an hour before a final amendment was added. The amendment, introduced by Andrew Pulliam, sophomore biology major and College of Science and Engineering representative, said if further student polling was done that showed students wanted the right to carry concealed firearms on campus, further legislation would be written that would reflect student interests.

Myra Mills, junior music education major College of Fine Arts representative, said the Student Relations Committee will attempt to conduct a poll through, but no poll has been scheduled yet.