By David Saleh Rauf - Express-News
AUSTIN — Michael Guzman uses his concealed handgun license to carry a lightweight stainless steel .45-caliber pistol for self-defense.
The 25-year-old Texas State University senior, a former Marine, takes his Kimber Ultra Carry II firearm just about everywhere — except school. State law prohibits him from bringing the firearm on campus.
Guzman would like to see that change this year, and legislators appear to be listening.
Lawmakers are drafting bills — one to authorize the ability to carry a gun on campus and another to allow licensed handgun owners to openly carry their weapons — that likely will be the most hotly debated among several pieces of gun-related legislation to be considered this session.
Guzman wants the ability to carry a gun on campus for security reasons.
“I feel that a woman who's been in a violent relationship or going through a divorce, the crazy ex-husband shouldn't be given a guarantee,” said Guzman, president of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, one of several groups seeking to influence lawmakers on gun legislation. “This will level the odds.”
Not every student agrees. The University of Texas at Austin's student government overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting the campus' gun ban and calling on “elected officials in Texas to oppose attempts to eliminate campus weapons bans.”
Two Republicans who've championed Second Amendment issues are pledging to file bills on the subject.
But for Ian McCarthy, a 22-year-old online marketing entrepreneur in Austin, the issue of carrying concealed guns on campus ranks behind the ability to openly carry one.
His beef is with a law that prevents Texans from being able to openly tote their pistols. At present, people with handgun permits have to keep their weapons concealed.
“We think that everyone who can legally own a gun should be able to carry openly,” McCarthy said. “Criminals want an easy target. When they see you can fight back they're' going to go somewhere else.”
McCarthy is a member of the national pro-gun group — OpenCarry.org — advocating the change in Texas law. The group, which has raised more than $10,000 online to buy radio and billboard ads across the state, also says it has collected more than 53,000 Texas signatures in an online petition spearheaded by McCarthy.
And while Guzman and McCarthy represent different grass-roots gun movements, the two share one thing in common: Their causes have grabbed the attention of gun advocates across the state and legislators.
Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, is in the process of drafting open-carry legislation. Riddle she declined to comment.
Of the two issues, the ability to carry a concealed gun on campus is expected to evoke more emotion.
Discussion over guns on college campuses burst on the national scene two years ago, sparked by the fatal shootings of 32 students at Virginia Tech.
Since then, 17 states have introduced legislation to allow students and faculty to pack heat on campus. None has passed.
In Texas, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is preparing a concealed carry on campus bill. He refers to the proposed measure as a “safety protection bill” for students and faculty.
“I don't want to wake up one morning and hear on the news that some madman went on a Texas campus and picked off Texas students like sitting ducks,” he said.
A House interim study conducted by the Law Enforcement Committee — which noted that only 11 U.S. universities allow concealed guns on campus — recommended passage of such a measure. The committee's chairman, Rep. Joe Driver, has also said he's going to author a campus gun bill of his own.
It wouldn't be the first time the Legislature considered such a bill. In 1997 and 1999, Rep. Suzanna Hupp authored similar legislation. Both bills died.
Gov. Rick Perry is among those who support the idea of letting adult students, who are licensed to carry handguns, bring their pistols to campus as a means of potentially protecting themselves or others.
But the issue has been met with staunch opposition from gun-control advocates, university officials, campus law enforcement and some lawmakers.
“I don't want to return to a 19th-century Wild West urban atmosphere for Texas,” said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Forth Worth. He added: “I oppose both concealed carry on campus and open carry but psychologically open carry is the worst by far because of the implications it has when you're walking down the street.”
While the concealed carry on campus initiative has strong support from the powerful gun lobby, the same can't immediately be said for the open carry issue. The gun lobby at the Texas Capitol already has its agenda set for the session, and open carry isn't on the list.
High on this session's agenda for gun advocates is a push to allow licensed Texans the ability to stow a handgun inside their locked vehicle while in a company parking lot or garage.