Wednesday, February 27, 2013

For the record

The messages of support I have gotten during the past week and a half because of my opposition to SB 182, Sen. Brian Birdwell's bill to legalize concealed carry of handguns on college campuses, have been overwhelming. They have come from colleagues, students, administrators and friends: groups which, of course, are not mutually exclusive. The public reaction, though, has been more equivocal. Letters have appeared in both the Baylor Lariat and the Waco Tribune-Herald opposing the stand my colleague Blake Burleson and I have taken, and the Lariat managed to find a colleague to interview who supports the bill. I have written a letter to the Lariat that I hope will appear tomorrow, so I am going to use this space to clear up a misunderstanding which unfortunately is all too typical of the way this debate is conducted.

In the Lariat's coverage of our delivery of the petition to Sen. Birdwell's office last week, I was quoted as saying that if the bill passes, Baylor, as a private university, could still make it against our policy to bring guns to campus, but that students who violated that policy would no longer be committing a felony. In response, a student wrote the following in a letter that is currently on the Lariat's website:

"Wallace again claims that if concealed carry was legalized in Texas on college campuses, Baylor would still retain the right to deny that freedom being a private university, which is true. He points out that the university would need to produce signage and a 'legal force' to enforce such policies; however, he also states, in the event concealed carry on campuses is legalized, that '[s]omebody who violated that rule would no longer be committing a felony as they are at present.' While I do not deny that instilling some ‘physical force’ would be more effective, clearly Wallace has not taken the time to educate himself on concealed carry laws – Texas Penal Code § 30.06 to be exact. There is already a 'legal force' in place in the form of a sign. It is called a 30.06 (pronounced 'thirty-ought six”') sign. Texas CHL owners are instructed in the proper interpretation of these signs, meaning that to enter any premises that visibly displays this sign while carrying a legal firearm is, in fact, a felony. Wallace’s statement that they would not be committing a felony would be false if Baylor were to place them at all boundaries of the campus."

I checked and easily confirmed that violating a 30.06 sign is, at worst, a misdemeanor trespass and not a felony.  Furthermore, the law requires that 30.06 signs must be displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public. I am informed by a knowledgeable third party that the lack of a clear definition of the words "conspicuous" and "clearly visible" opens up a huge legal loophole that makes 30.06 violations extremely difficult to prosecute. So Baylor is actually on even weaker legal ground than I had previously thought. If SB 182 passes, the most serious charge we would be able to bring against someone who brought a concealed handgun to our campus would, as I thought, be misdemeanor trespassing. Even that, though, would be hard to substantiate, especially on a campus as large as Baylor's.

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