Given the intensity of the discussion, you are forgiven if you thought your state senators might be weighing important matters like full-day pre-kindergarten.
No such luck. The Republican-driven Senate was dealing with one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top priorities: forcing state universities to accept pistol-packing on their campuses.
The guns-on-campus bill, or Campus Carry as it’s called in Capitol parlance, is necessary because God wants people to be able to pack heat if they so choose, said sponsor Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.
Public universities currently have the ability to decide to allow guns to be carried on campus by holders of concealed handgun licenses. There are some prohibitions, involving campus buildings, sporting events, and places where alcohol is served.
Only Texas A&M University currently has chosen to allow guns on campus. A&M Chancellor John Sharp recently said he isn’t personally concerned about people licensed to carry concealed handguns doing so, and added that A&M will have no position on the legislation.
At least one public university chancellor with some strong gun creds, William McRaven of the University of Texas system, doesn’t like the prospect of guns on campus. The former Navy SEAL commander, who led the successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden, wrote legislators at the session’s start: “There is great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals age 21 or older, will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds,” wrote the retired admiral.
A UT/Texas Tribune poll in mid-February found that Texas voters are split on Campus Carry, with 47 percent approving it for faculty, staff and students, and 45 percent opposed. There were 22 percent who strongly support it, but 32 percent are strongly opposed. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, during the debate, asked Birdwell why the bill is necessary.
“The people of Texas don’t want this bill. The administrators don’t want this bill. Faculty doesn’t want this bill. Workers and employees don’t want this bill. Students don’t want this bill,” Garcia said. “Why are we doing this?”
Birdwell indicated that God’s Will takes precedence, because God ordained that the right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment should not be forbidden on universities owned by the public.
“My concern is to expand the freedom of our most trustworthy citizens,” Birdwell said upon introducing the bill. Democratic senators did not miss that Birdwell’s bill exempts private universities, including Baylor University in Waco, a Baptist-founded institution.
Two long-time Democratic senators from Houston, with public universities in their districts – JohnWhitmire and Rodney Ellis – asked Birdwell about that exemption.
“How in the world can your bill require University of Houston, (Texas Southern University}, Houston Community College to allow students to have concealed weapons but Rice University in the same community can opt out?” Whitmire asked.
Ellis wondered aloud if Baylor University, a large employer and private institution in Birdwell’s district, which already has the capability to allow handguns on campus if it chooses to, might have exerted some pressure.
“It is interesting that you would put this in public universities, in other people’s districts, but not private when the largest employer in your district is a private university,” Ellis commented.
The bill was designed to respect private property rights, Birdwell responded, and said private universities could decide whether to allow firearms, just like any other property owner.
In other words, while God’s Will trumps public university faculty, staff and students, either Private Property Rights trump God’s Will, or God ranks private property rights higher than Campus Carry in the ecclesiastical lineup.
Public university systems estimated Campus Carry would cost them tens of millions of dollars to provide beefed-up security, equipment, and safe places to store guns.
Birdwell has questioned whether such spending would indeed be necessary, but said, essentially, it doesn’t matter.
“A fundamental right granted by the Creator is not subordinate to the financial costs or speculation … of our universities,” he told his fellow senators.
In the end, it didn’t matter much about the Democrats’ opposition. There are just 11 of them in the 31-member Senate.
Since the Republicans raised the number of senators it takes to block a bill from coming up in the Senate, from 11 to 12, Democrats know that the two-thirds vote that they used to block Campus Carry two years ago no longer works.
They’re superfluous to whether a bill comes up if the 20 Republicans are unanimous. And so the Republicans, on a 20-11 party-line vote, sent the bill to the House.
The Senate Democrats hope some of the issues they raised with all the amendments they proposed, and questions they asked, have more impact on the other side of the capitol.
DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458 2963.