By James Ratcliff/@jamesr5767
A few dozen people were in attendance during the Student Government Association’s Concealed Carry Forum at the Main Campus Auditorium on March 19 — less than the SGA expected — but the majority in attendance expressed support for allowing concealed carry on campus.
Zach Gonzales, prospective transfer from Northwest Vista College, said he was disappointed by low attendance but expressed approval for concealed carry and campus dialogue on the issue.
Jennifer Valdiviez, general education junior, also came to show her support. “It’s a good idea, as far as security risks. I would think people would have the right to protect themselves,” she said.
SGA President Andres Holliday stated in a telephone interview March 18 the timing of the campus carry forum and recent legislative action Senate bills is impeccable. SGA advertised the forum — only the second gun issue forum to take place on this campus — months prior. Holliday was pleased the scheduled date of the forum coincided with momentum of high-profile gun bills in the Texas senate.
The state senate gave approval March 18 for Senate Bill 11, a campus carry bill. The vote was along party lines, with all Democrats opposed. Legislation will advance to the House of Representatives for approval.
“I feel like we made great strides in making people aware of what’s going on,” Holliday said.
Holliday said the SGA did not spend any money on this forum since there were no associated costs.
Currently, public universities can opt to allow guns on campus, but Texas A&M University-College Station is the only one that has opted to do so. However, no such measures can take effect until the passage of SB 11.
Another Senate Bill, SB 17, is currently in the House after passing the Senate. This bill would allow open carry in Texas, which is one of only six states nationwide to currently not allow it.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated he will sign both the open carry and concealed carry on campus bills if approved by the House.
On the fence
Despite a majority of vocal supporters for campus carry, some said they were undecided and came to weigh both sides of the issue.
“There is a positive and a negative side to it,” said general education junior Tara Thompson. “It’s different when campus police handles the gun. I’d even feel safe if teachers had the chance to carry guns on campus, but I would feel unsafe to come to campus and not know who is carrying a gun, or not.”
“I’m in the middle, but mostly leaning toward against it,” said bilingual education junior Lisette Ayabar. “You should feel safe on campus and some aren’t stable to carry a gun.”
Moderator Al Arreola Jr., president and CEO of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, handled questions ranging from hypothetical shooting scenarios to preventing crime on campus.
Panelists in support of allowing concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to carry on campus were Justin Delosh III of Lone Star Gun Rights and former U.S. representative Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco (R-TX).
Dissenting opinions on the panel came from Kristen Katz, from Keep Guns Off Campus, and Manuel Medina of the Bexar County Democratic Party.
Much of Thursday’s forum revolved around the senate bills. However, Katz and Medina talked over how campus safety would be handled, citing the dissenting opinions of other campus police departments.
Canseco and Delosh expressed throughout the forum that regulations in place for licensed holders are enough to remind holders that even a misdemeanor can strip them of their rights and expressed confidence in that population obeying the current laws.
Holliday has stated his support for concealed carry in an editorial published in this online newspaper and in other public venues.
University spokeswoman Marilu Reyna said the university’s official position is that “Texas A&M-San Antonio will implement and enforce any law that is passed by the State Legislature regarding this matter.”
According to Richard Delgado, Director of Military Community Development and Army ROTC, he was unaware of a lot of discussion among A&M-San Antonio’s veteran student population on the issue.
“We haven’t heard much from our staff or from our military students, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t students or staff talking about it,” Delgado said. “The only thing we did was share the information on our Facebook page and now our military students are aware.”
Hoyt Garner, on behalf of the Campus Activities Board, said the campus organization has no stance on the issue since “it’s an SGA issue.”
Two members of the Faculty Senate, Ed Westermann and Lorrie Webb, were not available the afternoon of March 19 for comment.
Some students expressed concern that forums organized by groups who take a pro-gun stance only attract those that are in favor of such initiatives. Others said they worried about those who are silent on the issue altogether.
The Young Republicans of Bexar County, a political organization dedicated to advancing conservative and Constitutional philosophy, tweeted:
#tamusacc Conceal Carry On! The debate is about to get heated here at A&M-SA
— BC Young Republicans (@BCYRepublicans) March 19, 2015
Participants and followers used the Twitter hashtag #TAMUSACC to chronicle the event.
Some attendees hoped for better attendance and more vocal opinions from students, no matter their position.
“My concern is that there are still lots of people who aren’t getting involved with the issue, regardless whether they’re for it or against it,” said Jim Swafford, psychology junior.
“Though our opinions differ, the important thing is that people should get involved,” Katz said.
Holliday said that a poll will be held between March 30 and April 2 for students to weigh in on the topic to gain better understanding of where the campus as a whole stands on the topic.