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Testimony relating to concealed handguns

Testimony opposing Senate Bill 354 by Wentworth relating to carrying concealed handguns on campus by Mary Aldridge Dean, TFA Executive Director

Chairman Wentworth and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on Senate Bill 354. I am Mary Aldridge Dean, Executive Director of the Texas Faculty Association. TFA represents faculty and staff at public junior colleges, universities and health science centers in Texas. Please allow me to share with you briefly the reasons why TFA opposes SB 354.

In light of the tragic events at Virginia Tech University and the scary incident that occurred recently at the University of Texas at Austin, TFA certainly understands why reasonable people may believe that allowing license holders to carry concealed handguns on campus would make our institutions of higher education safer. However, TFA strongly believes that our campuses are safer without concealed handguns for the following reasons:

1. Concealed handguns would detract from a healthy learning environment

Students and teachers must be able to express themselves freely in classroom environments, where discussions frequently touch on controversial topics that arouse passion. The introduction of handguns on our campuses would inhibit this dialogue by creating fear of possible retaliation. Whether it’s a classroom debate, a student-teacher conversation about a grade, or an informal interaction in a dormitory; the presence of hidden handguns would restrain the open exchange of ideas that is so critical to the college experience.

2. More guns on campus would create additional risks for students

Allowing concealed carry permit holders to bring handguns onto college campuses would raise a host of public safety concerns for institutions that have a legal duty to provide secure environments for their students, faculty and visitors. As noted in a 2007 report by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, there are four reasons why gun violence would be likely to increase if more guns were present on college campuses: (1) The prevalence of drugs and alcohol; (2) The risk of suicide and mental health issues; (3) The likelihood of gun thefts, and; (4) An increased risk of accidental shootings. 3 Shooters would not be deterred by concealed carry permit holders; 4, Concealed carry permit holders are not always “law abiding” citizens,

A 2002 study by the Harvard School of Public Health compared students who have a firearm at college with those who do not have a firearm. They found that students who have a firearm at college are more likely to binge drink, drive a motor vehicle after binge drinking, use illegal drugs, vandalize property, and get into trouble with the police

3. SHOOTERS WOULD NOT BE DETERRED BY CONCEALED CARRY PERMIT HOLDERS

Campus shooters are also frequently suicidal. Most of the campus shootings in America in recent years (i.e., Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Louisiana Technical College, etc.) were murder-suicides. These shooters left home on the morning of their attacks knowing they were going to die by gunfire before the day was over—their goal was simply to take as many people with them as they could. It is unlikely these shooters would have been deterred by the knowledge that their fellow students (or campus faculty) might be armed. In fact, it is possible that a college campus that allows staff and faculty to carry concealed handguns might provide a more attractive target to such shooters. Lacking any fear of death, they might welcome the opportunity to provoke shootouts and crossfire among relatively untrained concealed carry permit holders in order to increase casualties.

4. CONCEALED CARRY PERMIT HOLDERS ARE NOT ALWAYS “LAW-ABIDING” CITIZENS

Research has demonstrated that those who obtain concealed carry permits can pose a threat to public safety A Violence Policy Center study found that Texas concealed handgun license holders were arrested for weapon-related offenses at a rate 81% higher than the general population of Texas aged 21 and older (offenses included 279 assaults, 671 unlawfully carrying a weapon, and 172 deadly conduct/discharge of a firearm). Between January 1, 1996 and August 31, 2001, Texas concealed handgun license holders were arrested for 5,314 crimes—including murder, rape, kidnapping and theft.

5. Concealed permit holders are not required to have law enforcement training.

The 48 states in the U.S. that allow residents to carry concealed handguns do not require them to have any formal law enforcement training. The training requirement to obtain a concealed carry permit in a “shall-issue” state is typically a day class. Many shall-issue states do not even require the applicant to fire his/her handgun at a range to demonstrate proficiency or even basic competency with the weapon. An example would be Virginia, where a four-hour sit-down session in a classroom is sufficient to meet the state’s training requirement. This is in direct contrast to the intensive training required of law enforcement officers who are currently called on to safeguard our nation’s colleges and universities. These officers start receiving training in how to safely handle a sidearm—and in demonstrating discretion in using lethal force—long before they ever see actual duty in their communities. This training then continues throughout their career in law enforcement. Police departments typically require their officers to qualify 1-4 times a year with their duty weapon.

The notion that individuals with concealed carry permits are going to make prudent decisions about when to discharge their firearms on school campuses is dubious at best; as is the notion that these individuals would successfully take down active shooters while avoiding collateral damage in chaotic situations. The safest policy to limit potential violence is to prohibit students and faculty from keeping handguns on campus and allow trained law enforcement officers to provide for campus security.

TFA has long been concerned about threats of violence on campus. Indeed, in the 78th Legislature, TFA strongly supported HB 2117 authored by Representative Fred Brown that would have required public institutions of higher education to provide clear guidelines for the removal of a student or employee who was deemed to constitute a threat to human life on campus or other facility of the institution. TFA remains convinced that ensuring that each institution of higher education in Texas has a sound procedure in place for identifying potentially dangerous individuals would be a more productive way of making our campuses safer than by allowing individuals to come to campus armed.

The overwhelming majority of the 4,314 colleges and universities in the United States prohibit students and faculty from carrying concealed handguns on campus (the exceptions include public colleges and universities in Utah; Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Virginia; and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado). Despite high- profile shootings like the ones mentioned above, homicides at American colleges and universities remain rare events .A 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that the overall homicide rate at postsecondary education institutions was 0.07 per 100,000 of enrollment in 1999. By comparison, the criminal homicide rate in the United States was 5.7 per 100,000 persons overall in 1999, and 14.1 per 100,000 for persons ages 17 to 29. Another study, conducted by the Department of Justice, found that 93% of violent crimes that victimize college students occur off campus. This research demonstrates conclusively that students on the campuses of postsecondary institutions are significantly safer than both their off-campus counterparts and the nation as a whole.

Before assuming my current position as Executive Director of the Texas Faculty Association, I taught history at South Texas College from 1996 to 2007. I can assure you that I would not have felt safer in my classroom or in my office knowing that handguns were allowed on campus. I urge the members of the Committee to oppose this bill.

If SB 354 or a similar bill passes, I hope you will amend it, allowing Texas colleges and universities the option of whether or not their campus will allow concealed handguns.

Thank you. I would be happy to answer questions.




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