Concealed firearms bill unlikely to affect Baylor policy

By Daniel C. Houston

Baylor and other private universities in Texas will likely not be required by law [PDF] to allow licensed students, faculty, administrators or staff to carry concealed handguns onto campus, according to sources in the Texas Legislature.

Although H.B. 86, a bill introduced in the Texas House of Representatives by Republican Rep. David Simpson, would currently require both public and private institutions to allow concealed carry of firearms, Simpson said he intends to include an opt-out clause exempting private universities from its provisions.

“As long as people are free to choose their university, whether that be public or private, then that’s their choice,” Simpson said. “If someone doesn’t want to go to an institution that allows them to defend themselves personally, they can choose to go to a private university.”

Simpson said he has received a new draft of H.B. 86 including the opt-out clause from the Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan organization that assists state legislators in writing the language of bills, and plans to substitute this new draft for the old one when it is considered in committee.

Two similar bills, H.B. 750 in the House and S.B. 354 in the Texas Senate, both include such opt-out clauses already, according to the bills as filed the Texas Legislature’s online database.

Both H.B. 750, authored by Republican Rep. Joe Driver, and S.B. 354, authored by Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth, would both require private institutions like Baylor to “[consult] with students, staff, and faculty” before establishing rules prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns onto campus.

Prompted by a request in November from Wichita Falls junior Daniel Cervera, a member of the Student Senate, Simpson sent a letter on Dec. 1 addressed to the Baylor community, assuring his bill would not require Baylor to conform with potential weapons policy changes.

“I discovered that a bill had been filed in the Texas House last fall addressing the carry on campus issue, and that it didn’t appear to include an opt-out clause for private institutions,” Cervera said. “I asked him to draft a letter to the Baylor student body assuring them that he does intend to include an opt-out clause in his bill.”

The letter was sent directly to Cervera and then forwarded on to other student leaders. This letter was provided to the Baylor Lariat on Monday, and in it Simpson affirmed his belief that Baylor has the right to determine its own weapons policy.

Cervera, also a member of the Young Conservatives of Texas, supports the opt-out clause, but also supports Baylor allowing licensed handgun owners to bring them on campus.

“I think in principle,” Cervera said, “we agree that there is a concern — private property rights — that merits the inclusion of an opt-out clause for a private Christian institution such as Baylor, though I believe participation in this program is a step that Baylor should be prepared to take. With the increase in crime and violence on campus, those who are legally able to carry concealed weapons for self-defense may wish to be able to defend themselves on campus as well.”

Simpson said his bill will likely serve as a backup to Driver’s bill, which Simpson believes has “no substantial differences” compared with his own.

Simpson does not believe his colleagues in the House will oppose an exemption for private universities at any point in the legislative process, but thinks that Baylor administrators should still take the policy seriously, despite university President Ken Starr publicly calling the policy “unwise” at a Nov. 11 Student Senate meeting.

“I think administrators are going to think long and hard before they remove the right of self-defense,” Simpson said.