Texas college students, faculty and staff with concealed handgun licenses came one step closer to being able to carry on campus last month, but Texas A&M University is divided on whether the possible passage of Senate Bill 11 would be detrimental or beneficial to student safety.
Although Chancellor John Sharp wrote in a Feb. 11 letter during the bill's public hearing stage that the system will not have a position on the issue and not oppose campus carry, A&M's Student Senate overwhelmingly supports campus carry while the Faculty Senate adheres to the stances of campus police and psychologists around the country who oppose it. The bill filed by Dist. 22 Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, which will allow CHL carriers over the age of 21 to carry firearms on campus, is awaiting a senate vote after a receiving a 7-2 State Affairs committee vote of approval Feb. 18 and could change the campus psyche at A&M if written into law.
Hanah Georges served as chair of the Texas A&M Students for Concealed Carry on Campus organization during the 2013-2014 school year when concealed carry bills failed in the Legislature. She said the speed at which SB 11 has made it to its current stage to be heard by the Senate has her more excited for campus carry compared to previous years. Georges graduated from A&M in December, but said she would have felt more secure on campus during her college years with SB 11 in effect.
"For the university to ban weapons from anyone associated with the university on campus I feel is taking away some of their rights and exposing them to potential threats," she said.
Georges' views reflect the official voice of the A&M student senate, which is the voice of the student body.
The senate passed the Texas A&M Personal Protection Act with a vote of 39 for and 12 against and the bill was signed by student body president Kyle Kelly in December. The bill will use the A&M Student Government Association's resources to lobby in support of campus concealed carry during Legislature.
Kelly's explanation for signing the bill read: "To sign or veto this act was the most difficult decision I have made serving as Student Body President. This is a very complicated issue of personal rights, but more importantly, public safety ... I deeply care about and considered every thought and feeling on this issue. I signed the act based on the belief that it was representative of students and in the best interest of Texas A&M University."
According to Faculty Senate Speaker Jim Woosley, the senate does not have an official stance on campus concealed carry but deferred to experts, whom he said for the most part oppose campus concealed carry.
"If you look at what police department chiefs across the country and counseling services say, those are the things we're paying attention to," Woosley said.
Maggie Gartner, executive director of A&M's Student Counseling Services, said she believes an influx of firearms on campus could lead to a spike in violence.
"From a psychiatric and counseling point of view I am concerned that ready access to lethal means will increase the suicide and homicide violence that is potentially there," she said.
Gartner said when students seek counseling at schools across the country, it is not because of homesickness, but thoughts of suicide induced by high-stress environments college campuses foster. She pointed to a study released by the Center for Collegiate Center for Mental Health on Feb. 5 that shows one in 10 students who have visited college counseling centers have attempted suicide. Gartner said her stance against concealed campus carry is formed by "hard facts."
"We know young adults at this age don't have good impulse control sometimes and one of the things that contributes to suicide is access to lethal means," she said. "It's going to increase the number of suicides."