Political Science Club Sponsors Open Campus Forum to Foster Discussion on Hot Button Issue
By Patricia Sierra Barrios and Michael Jimenez
The Political Science Club hosted an open forum Thursday evening to promote discussion on a legislative proposal which would allow a licensed holder to carry a concealed handgun on the
campus of an institution of higher education.
The forum was advertised across campus as a neutral forum to help students learn about the proposed HB 86, SB 354 and the political process in general, said Carlos A. Uresti Jr., Political Science Club president and son of Sen. Carlos Uresti.
“We are not hosting a ‘for or against’ forum,” Uresti Jr. said. ”It’s for the people to decide whether they’re for, or against it.”
Uresti Jr. said that in addition to learning directly what the proposed bill will contain, the forum was an opportunity for students to voice their opinion about the legislative process.
“This also allows students to decide: Should this bill be a priority? Are there other issues the Legislature could be addressing other than concealed handguns on campus?“ Uresti Jr. said.
Sens. Uresti, Wentworth, Van de Putte and Zaffirini, and Representatives Villarreal, Menendez, Larson, McClendon, Farias, Gutierrez and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus were all invited to share their thoughts on the legislation and to address questions and concerns within the academic community.
Panelists included State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, author of SB 354, Sen. Carlos Uresti and and Gilbert Loredo, chief of staff for State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. While only three (Wentworth, Uresti, and Chief of Staf Loredo) were able to plan attendance in advance, representatives from the offices of Farias and Larson were able to attend, though they did not officially participate. Other invitees were unable to attend due to previous obligations.
The forum was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., however the Student Center began filling with people shortly after 6 p.m. Approximately 100 students attended.
Student Regent and MBA student Cresencio Davila moderated the event. Davila facilitated the discussion by working his way through the forum of seated students and inviting them to ask questions. Both Sens. Wentworth and Uresti gave their respective support for the proposition in their introductions. In addition to discussing S.B 354, Sen. Uresti also discussed the budget and solicited support from the audience about the utilization of the state’s rainy day fund as a way to address budget shortfalls in the area of education.
During the forum, a student asked Sen. Wentworth for his opinion on whether the legislation would pass, to which he responded that the Senate that had previously passed the bill was nearly intact as 29 out of the 31 state senators had returned to the Legislature. Wentworth added that approximately 75 of the members had voted for the bill when the bill failed at the House. Currently, he is already up to 80 votes for the bill, he said. Wentworth added that Gov. Perry said he would sign the legislation into effect if it came to his desk, and would probably be implemented by Labor day.
Prior to the event, students relayed a sense of overwhelming opposition for the legislation, but when Sen. Uresti polled the audience toward the end of the forum, it was a 50-50 split. Some in the audience argued it was more 60-40, in favor of the bill. However, several faculty and administrative staff who attended the forum did not participate in the informal poll.
HB 86, SB 354 legislation will allow adults over the age of 21 the right to carry a concealed handgun in university buildings and inside classrooms. Currently, the law allows for weapons to be carried on university property only. There are, however, some added provisions to this bill. Two years ago, a similar version was passed by the state Senate, but failed to pass the state House. The proposal includes provisions giving institutions of higher education the right to customize rules and regulations for their specific campuses. This includes regulating the storage of handguns in dormitories or other residential buildings that are owned and operated by the institution and located on the campus of the institution.
In addition to not providing any funding for additional training for campus police or others in the University community, Senate Bill 354 also adds that the state, institutions, officers, employees, peace officers and or a qualified handgun instructors may not be liable for damages caused by the actions of an applicant. However, even if the legislation passes, guns could still be prohibited in certain areas, including polling days of an election; if the institution is located in a secured area of an airport; or if it is within 1,000 feet of premises the location of which is designated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Legislators Field Questions from Campus Community
One student asked if the bill would allow the university to be notified if individuals would be carrying a concealed weapon, to which Senator Wentworth stated, “No, there is no provision in the bill that would require this.”
Another asked: “What are the statistics on gun use in schools? Does the media attention portray the problem larger than what it is, and will guns on campus increase or decrease violence on campus?”
“It’s my desire and hope that it would decrease violence on campus,” Sen. Wentworth responded.
“It was sad to me that not more students showed up because they were in class. A lot of the students are against the bill and they are concerned that more thought was not put into the bill. I don’t feel that Senator Wentworth was prepared to answer the questions that were addressed. It’s like a doctor giving you medicine to annull the pain, but you’re not getting to the root of the problem,” said biology student Aracely Salazar.
While some students said they wished their peers would have asked more probing questions, others were pleased with the Political Science Club’s efforts to bring the forum to campus.
Social science major Alice Santa Cruz said she was glad the university hosted the forum. “It’s usually not at a place like this on the South Side. It’s usually at a more prestigious university.”
Santa Cruz said she does not favor the proposal to allow guns on college and university campuses.
“They allow children on this campus. And then to allow handguns? That’s like allowing them in a high school. And not only that, we are right next door to a middle school,” Santa Cruz said.
Not everyone was in agreement.
“It’s for security, not just for myself, but for students and staff,” said Juan A. Moreno, business services representative for the Department of Finance and Administration. “In my department, where we carry a lot of money, a gun could be a useful tool.”
In an email circulated to the campus community just hours before the event, efforts were made to underscore the fact that the forum was hosted by the Political Science Club advised by Dr. Christina Suthammanont, faculty member of the School of Arts and Sciences, and “in no way attempts to influence individuals’ opinions or the actions of the legislators on the issue.” The forum, administrators said, was being held to provide a platform to engage and inform the community.
History major Robert Cervantes said the forum was a good way to get information and learn about the political process. “I think everyone should get involved and become educated about what’s going on.”
Psychology major Melissa Mendoza said the issue affects not only A&M-San Antonio, but colleges and universities statewide, adding, “To have everyday people who don’t know anything about a gun or how to handle one is very touchy.”
Mendoza said the forum gave students the opportunity to learn about the controversial issue. “It shows that we’re open to any kind of issue — students can have input. Instead of writing letters or emails, which take some time, you can just ask them up front and hopefully get a direct answer.”
According to Uresti Jr., the Political Science Club will continue to bring open forums to A&M-San Antonio to foster discussion. More information can be obtained by contacting club president Carlos A. Uresti Jr., by email: CAUJR@urestilaw.com