Student Congress voted Wednesday to support a campus carry bill proposed in the Senate to allow concealed handgun licenses to bring guns on campus.
The resolution, which passed 27 in favor and three opposed with no debate, was in response to the administration’s attempt to gauge the student body’s opinion of Senate Bill 11.
Beau Carter, Students’ Association president and junior political science major from Farmers Branch, and Caleb Orr, junior class president, drafted the resolution.
“The goal of this resolution is to act in such a way that is more in line with allowing the right to bear arms for students,” said Orr, sophomore political science major from McKinney. “Yes, we’re a private institution, but we don’t think that our actions should be determined just because we’re legally established as private. ACU is much bigger than just a private institution, and since it is so, it should act with regard to the Texas Constitution.”
The campus carry bill, which allows those with concealed handgun licenses to bring their handguns on campuses, was proposed to and passed by the Texas Senate in early March. It is now up for debate in the House and, depending on the outcome, will go to the governor to be signed into law.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would approve legislation “that expands on Second Amendment rights.”
ACU Police Chief Jimmy Ellison explained the bill to SA about two weeks ago.
“If this bill passes into law and gets signed by the governor, it would conceivably be legal for CHL holders in Texas to bring their guns onto campus, into classrooms, into the dorms, into The Bean, into the Campus Center, unless ACU chooses to enact a local rule against that,” he said.
As part of the bill, private universities are allowed to opt out of permitting concealed handguns on campus, given that they first consult students, staff and faculty, in that order, in the decision.
In the meeting, Ellison said administration wanted to address the issue before the bill was voted on by the Texas House of Representatives. That way, if it were approved and passed into law, the university could establish its position and respond quickly.
“All of the legislative experts and legislative watchdogs that I have contact with seem to think that this bill will pass out of the House and eventually go to the governor for approval into law,” Ellison said.
He and Chris Riley, vice president of Student Life, used SA as a consultation group for the student body.
“This is the voice of the students, this is a group that they come to and trust that you all have representation across the board on these types of issues,” Riley said. “This will be an opportunity to help us in the administrative perspective understand what, just from your perspective, what makes sense in relation to this.”
However, the language of the Senate bill does not state the importance of the students, staff or faculty’s opinions in the university’s decision to allow concealed handguns on campus.
“The bill doesn’t say we are held or bound by what the opinion is of the students, it just requires us to consult and help us understand what those expectations are of the people that make up those universities,” Riley said.
Main arguments in favor of the bill address the statistically backed claim of college campuses being most susceptible to active shooters, Ellison said.
In the resolution, Carter and Orr addressed this argument by citing several college and university shootings and the number of people killed at each, including the active-shooter situations at Virginia Tech University in 2007 and University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014.
The following section in the bill mentioned that about 150 campuses already allow campus carry and have for 20 years without seeing any resulting violence.
It also said that by not allowing campus carry while other universities do, ACU could be opening its campus to an active shooter.
However, Ellison said those who oppose the bill argue that more guns on campus would only add to the problem.
“It’s a serious issue,” Ellison said. “It’s a very divisive issue and is a topic that has come up in the last three legislative sessions in Austin.”
Given that an individual must be 21 years or older and cleared by the state to obtain a CHL, Ellison said many students on campus would not be carrying on campus.
Addressing a Congress member’s concern, Ellison said he would plan pre-emptive meetings about active-shooter situations with every CHL holder at ACU.
“We would take that step in trying to educate them, but we can’t require them to come to that meeting,” he said.
Even if the campus carry law passes and the university supports the law, it could still impose regulations on aspects of carrying on campus.
In fact, in the resolution, Congress said “regulations should be in line with the recommendations of Abilene Christian University Chief of Police (currently Jimmy Ellison) regarding the registration, tracking and training of students and faculty with concealed handgun licenses,” so long as the regulations do not conflict with the campus carry law.
Several members of Congress gave their input on the bill, including Cole McClellan, executive treasurer, Morgan Jennings, sophomore class treasurer, Rachael Shudde, freshman class president, Abraham Enriquez, freshman class treasurer, Burton Cannon, off-campus representative, J.P. Festa, Don Morris representative, Ryan Bischof, Onstead-Packer Building representative, Bryson Jennings, Mabee representative, and Zach West, Mabee representative.
“I was really happy with how the SA process went,” Orr said. “We really did put a lot of time into generating support. A big 27-3 vote shows overwhelming support for something, and I think it’s the most effective way to consult with the student body.”
Ellison said administration plans to make a decision before the Senate bill, if passed, becomes active on Sept. 1.