Although gun-control proponents believe their cause gained momentum in the wake of the elementary school massacre in Connecticut last month, politicians in Aggieland are holding fast to their veneration of the Second Amendment.
At least two state lawmakers who represent the area have joined the re-energized legislative movement to further loosen gun restrictions by supporting a measure that would allow holders of concealed gun permits to carry weapons into college classrooms.
Following the Connecticut massacre, President Barack Obama unveiled a series of 23 executive orders related to gun control on Jan. 16. The proposals under the most fire have been those banning assault weapons, limiting high-capacity magazines and requiring universal background checks for purchasing guns, which would extend the screening process to those who buy secondhand or through the Internet. U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, a Tea Party favorite whose district includes the Bryan-College Station area, owns a handful of guns, including an AR-15-type rifle which he said he bought to hunt with. Flores said he is considering joining with other congressmen in a letter to ask Obama not to impair Second Amendment rights.
"Arming issues should be a state issue, not a Washington issue," Flores said.
Like many gun supporters, Flores said guns don't kill people, people kill people. Flores said he does not support restricting the sale of assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
"There were more people killed by hammers in 2011 than assault rifles," Flores said. "Does that mean we should ban hammers? It's not the core issue."
Flores was noncommittal on increasing the number of gun buyers subject to background checks. He said he supports changes to make information sharing between law enforcement agencies easier and backs some of the items in Obama's executive order, such as studying what causes gun violence and improving data collection and how states share information.
"We need to look at the executive orders and determine if they are better done legislatively rather than through White House action," Flores said.
The mental health component to the gun debate was more complicated, Flores said. He called for congressional hearings and dialogue on whether the federal government could or should play a role in altering access to mental health care.
In Austin, legislators are poised to roll back a decades-old prohibition of handguns in classrooms. Proponents of allowing concealed handgun license holders to bring their firearms into university classrooms are hoping the third time is a charm, after similar measures have failed during the past two legislative sessions.
Sen. Bryan Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, have filed legislation aimed at allowing armed students.
It's a felony in Texas to carry a gun into a classroom. Texas is one of 21 states that ban the carrying of a concealed weapon on campus. Five states have provisions that allow concealed carry on campus and legislation is pending in two states, according to the national conference of state legislatures.
In Texas, concealed weapons are only banned in university buildings or arenas, and can be carried in open areas, walkways and parking lots. The Texas Penal Code allows individual universities to permit concealed weapons, but no public university in the state has done so.
Additionally, The A&M Student Conduct Code, section 24.3.6, prohibits possession of all firearms on university premises or any university-sponsored activity.
Texas Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, is a co-author of Birdwell's bill to allow guns on campus. Schwertner, whose district includes the Bryan-College Station area, said the issue is about personal protection and the constitutional right to bear arms.
"Campuses can be a dangerous place and although we have police and security I believe an individual should have their own self-defense," Schwertner said.
Similar to Flores, Schwertner said he opposed banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and was noncommittal about universal background checks. Schwertner said he has a concealed carry license, and grew up hunting deer and birds.
Rep. John Raney, R-Bryan, also backed permitting handguns into classrooms.
"As a member of the NRA and [the Texas State Rifle Association], I firmly believe in the preservation of our 2nd Amendment rights," Raney wrote in an email to The Eagle. "I am aware of past attempts to pass legislation similar to Senator Birdwell's SB 182 have been unsuccessful. I hope to see this one come to fruition. I intend on supporting this legislation as it provides coverage for CHL holders while allowing some local control for the colleges and universities."
The only area state lawmaker to not fully commit to the measure was Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-Brazos County.
"While I support the idea of allowing students to protect themselves, I believe that it is equally important to provide a safe academic environment for those students who are not armed," wrote Kacal in an email to The Eagle. "The Second Amendment is one of our most essential rights and anything we do needs to be carefully vetted for unintended consequences. My goal is to ensure that qualified adults have the ability to exercise their rights and that local law enforcement, universities, and institutions of higher education play an integral part in the conversation."
Senators of A&M's student government overwhelmingly support concealed carry on campus. Last fall, the student senate passed a resolution endorsing the measure. The support was so overwhelming that it survived a veto by the student body president.
Camille Mohle, president of Texas A&M's chapter of Students for Concealed Carry, was one of the student government senators who voted in favor of the resolution. A&M students' opinions on bringing guns to campus is mixed, Mohle acknowledged, but she said the fears of students who feel unsafe around guns are unfounded.
"How do they go to the movie theater, how do they go to the mall, how do they go to a restaurant?" Mohle asked, pointing out that concealed carry holders bring guns to those places.
She said allowing concealed carry on campus will allow permitted individuals to protect themselves from danger.
"If a student is that upset about something, no law will stop them," Mohle said. "If somebody is going to do something malicious, a law on a piece of paper is not going to stop them from doing it."