Self-defense is a statewide constitutional issue, not a local issue.
Two “gun bills” were the subject of a public hearing on Thursday, February 12, 2015 in the Senate State Affairs Committee. SB11 is this session’s campus-carry bill and SB17 a/k/a SB346 would allow people with a Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL) to carry their self-defense handgun either openly or concealed. It was a very long day for everyone and the testimony was pretty much what one would expect. This article will address only SB11, campus-carry.
Current law allows CHL holders to carry their handguns all over school campuses, but not in school buildings. However, colleges and universities can have regulations that prevent faculty, staff and students from having firearms anywhere on campus, other than in their locked cars and trucks. If SB11 passes in its current form (as-filed with the Huffman Amendment 1), then it would no longer be unlawful for a CHL holder to carry their handguns in school buildings. SB11 would also prevent schools from having policies against CHL holders carrying their concealed handguns, thus protecting faculty, staff and students from administrative actions such as termination or expulsion.
Listening to hours of testimony at times bordered on being painful. One would have thought it was 1995 when those opposed to concealed-carry were predicting massive death and destruction, or 2007 when the Motorist Protection Act (HB1815) opponents were spouting the same unfounded claims. The purpose of this article is not to go over all the false claims of anti-gunners yet again. Instead, it will focus on claims by some who want to allow the board of regents and/or chancellors of colleges and universities to opt-out of the proposed campus-carry law so that they can continue the status quo leaving students defenseless and at the mercy of would-be rapists and murderers. Those wanting the opt-out provision for public colleges and universities were using the mantra of “local control.”
Whenever one hears an elected official use the term “local control,” alarm bells should be ringing loudly and warning flags should be flying high. This term is frequently used when some city, county or other unit of local government (ex. schools) want to be exempt from state laws that apply to everyone else, or when they want to prevent citizens from doing something that is legal under Texas law. With a legislature that, thankfully, meets only every other year (in odd years), some degree of local control is necessary to prevent both overloading the legislature with issues that apply only to a small geographic area and delaying resolution of issues of importance only to that same small geographic area. However, the nature of many issues is of such great importance to all Texans that decisions must be made only by the Texas Legislature. This is especially true when dealing with the police powers of the State.
There are numerous issues that are truly “local” and cities and counties should be able to address them with ordinances and regulations. So it is with public school districts, water districts and college and universities. Examples are setting fees for water and sewer service, establishing city, county and school tax rates, posting hours for libraries, parks and other city/county facilities, and zoning ordinances just to name a few. However, the Texas Legislature must guard against the natural tendency of units of local government to seek expansion of their authority. Nowhere is this more important than when dealing with the constitutional police powers of the State and constitutional rights of its citizens.
SB11 contains an opt-out provision for private colleges and universities, based upon recognition of private property rights. (See, “What Constitutes a Private College?”) Opponents of SB11 are attempting to extend this opt-out language to state-funded colleges and universities claiming that, under SB11, it is a “privilege” that would be enjoyed only by private schools.
State-supported schools do not stand in the shoes of private colleges and universities. They are supported by taxpayer dollars and have protections that are not enjoyed by private businesses, including private colleges and universities. Although the mission may be similar, public and private entities are treated differently and the argument that the opt-out provision for private schools is a “privilege” fails.
School administrators including boards of regents and chancellors of public and private institutions have operational responsibility for their respective schools, with differing levels or mandatory reporting and accountability. They must address budgetary issues, staffing, admission requirements, physical plant/facilities, disciplinary matters, and others issues that deal with day-to-day operations of their schools.
Regents and chancellors are not experts in the area of self-defense or criminal laws, nor are they empowered by the State of Texas with the authority to establish criminal laws. Some who oppose SB11 argue to the contrary solely because these administrators “know their own schools.” That claim is unpersuasive and it ignores the constitutionally-mandated division between the duties and responsibilities of the legislature and local administrators.
The Texas Legislature has established: the minimum drinking age in this State, the minimum age and requirements for obtaining a driver’s license, the minimum amount of automobile liability insurance that drivers must maintain, the minimum age to give consent to sexual conduct, what elements constitute the offense of sexual assault, the circumstances under which a person can use deadly force in self-defense, and the minimum age and requirements for a person to obtain a Texas Concealed Handgun License. No rational person would argue that the concept of “local control” should extend to the point that college and university boards of regents or chancellors should be able to deviate from Texas law. Texans would scoff at the suggestion that school officials should be able to: establish a minimum drinking age higher or lower than the 21 year old age set by the Texas Legislature; allow students to drive on campus only if they are at least 25 years old; change the age of consent for sexual activity to 21 years; declare that no sexual assault has occurred unless the victim suffered “serious bodily injury” as defined in the Texas Penal Code, or that the Texas laws of self-defense simply do not apply on their campuses. Yet this is precisely the level of authority that some Senators want to extend to school administrators.
The right to defend one’s life is illusory when one is denied the means to do so. It will ring hollow to a 21 year old rape victim when she is told that she had a legal right to defend herself, but she was denied the tools necessary to prevent the rape because her Chancellor was wiser than the Texas Legislature and opted out of the campus-carry law. Only the Texas Legislature should make these life or death decisions, not school administrators regardless of the titles they may wear.