Month: <span>November 2015</span>

Mission impossible: making the campus gun law “reasonable”


It would be impossible to identify the absolute worst law to emerge from last spring’s legislative session, but undoubtedly one of the worst was the law to allow guns on college campuses. Although it is now the law of the state, it is still being debated as fiercely as it was when it was still just a bad idea.

That’s because the law won’t go into actual practice until next fall, when people who are licensed to carry concealed handguns will be able to carry them into buildings at state-supported universities. License holders have to be at least 21, which fortunately will exclude many students. And, private universities can exempt their entire campuses from the requirement.

The debate is now centered around how individual universities should deal with a provision – added to the law as a “compromise” — allowing officials at public universities to designate “reasonable” gun-free zones on their individual campuses.

Much of this debate revolves around whether the law will allow classrooms to continue to be gun-free. Based on what I have read, most faculty members – probably the overwhelming majority – simply don’t want guns in their classes, period, and I don’t blame them. The Texas Faculty Association fought against the law during the legislative session.

University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, the retired admiral who directed the raid to kill terrorist Osama bin Laden, also opposed the measure. He told legislative leaders the campus carry law would make universities less-safe.

The argument by proponents that the new law will help make classrooms safer because armed students could defend themselves and their classmates against armed assailants isn’t convincing. There may be an occasional, lucky exception, but most students with handguns would be no match against a surprise attack from a crazed, rapid-firing intruder intent on creating mayhem.

In the terror and confusion of such an assault, a student with a gun is more likely to shoot a fellow classmate or other innocent bystander or be shot by mistake by a police officer ready to fire at anyone with a gun and ask questions later.

Those arguments, of course, were ignored by most legislators. Rep. John Zerwas, the Republican chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, at least offered the provision for “reasonable” gun-free zones. But what is a reasonable definition of “reasonable”?

No guns in any classroom sounds reasonable to me, but not to Zerwas.

He told The Dallas Morning News that he would have trouble with a prohibition on guns in all classes but could understand how some classes “may not be a comfortable setting” with armed students. He didn’t say which ones, but he may have meant classes that encourage highly charged emotional debate or labs with volatile chemicals.

Trying to add a bit of “reasonableness” to an unreasonable, bad law isn’t easy, and most likely the issue, as the newspaper article suggests, will end up in court before it is finally resolved.





Texas’ attorney general needs a basic education in civics


Ken Paxton, Texas’ highly politicized and under-qualified attorney general, is trying to make himself relevant at the expense of educators and school children while he awaits trial on securities fraud charges.

His office is trying to convince the Texas Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that found the state’s school finance system inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional. And, now he claims it was “inappropriate” for more than 600 school districts to go to court to challenge the Legislature’s failure. Never mind, in Paxton’s mind, the Texas Constitution and the separation of powers doctrine.

But what else should we expect from an attorney general who gives more weight to partisan politics than the Constitution in forming legal decisions and opinions? This is the same guy, remember, who tried to suggest – wrongly – that county clerks could disregard the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling if they didn’t like it.

Paxton could use a good civics class in the public schools from which he voted to cut $5.4 billion in funding as a legislator in 2011. Those cuts were the final straw for the district judge who declared the finance system unconstitutional. Yet Paxton continues trying to undermine the schools he voted to shortchange, including local school districts in his home county that are plaintiffs in the case.

In a speech late last week, The Texas Tribune reported, Paxton complained that the state has been in and out of the courts for years over school funding. He blamedTexas’ educators, parents and other plaintiffs rather than state policymakers, such as himself, who persist in violating their constitutional responsibilties to adequately and equitably fund education.

“Opponents of Texas policy use the courts as legislative do-overs where they can seek to accomplish what they couldn’t accomplish during the (legislative) session,” he said.

School districts and their students are entitled to this “do-over” by no less an authority than the Texas Constitution. Too bad Texas voters don’t get a “do-over” of last year’s attorney general’s race.