This series was originally published in Huffington Post as an article titled How To Get Guns Off Campuses: A Call To Action!
We will be publishing this series over the next few days. This is Part 3.
In order to continue being effective, the unprecedented grassroots campaign and protest that has emerged against campus carry in Texas over the last year should consider re-examining how resources are distributed within the movement and devote significant energy towards opening a “new chapter” to complement its current activities: the legislative action chapter. The reason for this partial shift is simple. If we don’t, we’re not going to get very much accomplished.
If you haven’t previously worked on campus carry during a Texas Legislative Session, or haven’t read the the seminal 2008 RAND study evaluating on-the-street shooting accuracy of the NYC Police Department (preview: it’s not so good) – a category that includes most of us – the rest of this albeit quite long article is highly recommended to help prepare us for what will not be an easy fight.
In Texas, here’s the rub. The time to act is now. To change laws in Texas, or block new harmful proposals, the fight has to be taken to the Texas Legislature, which only meets for 140 days every odd calendar year. This means starting in mid-January, 2017, there’s a window until May 29th, 2017 to influence legislative outcomes that won’t appear again until mid-January 2019.
If you already have a chapter against campus carry at your university or community college and want to work on campus carry in the Texas Legislature, you’ll need to get organized. If you don’t have a chapter, but want to get involved, you’ll have to start one and find other student leaders and organizations in your campus community that would be interested in joining you.
Although some of the below applies to Texas specifically, many of the issues involved in bringing handguns into campuses and classrooms do not. Some of the below information might therefore be helpful to readers working against campus carry in other states.
Lawmakers may find the sections on “Statistics on Texas Handgun Licensees” and “Training of Texas Handgun Licensees” helpful to inform their own work since a fair portion of this information was never introduced during deliberations over SB11 or for other campus carry bills introduced during the last four biennial legislative sessions (i.e. 2009-2015).
- Overall Goals
There are at least two immediate goals for the 2017 Texas State Legislative session:
There is at least one eventual goal:
Keep in mind, in the service of both immediate and eventual goals, our aim as campus communities is not to get guns out of Texas. It is only to get guns off our campuses, and primarily out of our buildings and classrooms.
- How to Prepare for the 2017 Texas State Legislative session
In the collective experience of this article’s signatories , some of whom have significant experience working with the Texas Legislature, here is what needs to happen to create a potentially successful effort to pass legislation that would allow public higher education institutions to opt-out of campus carry and to help stop permitless carry, along with other pro-campus-carry-related legislation, from becoming law. These two below objectives do not necessarily need to be pursued in strict sequential order. In fact, you’re likely to be more effective if you pursue these goals in parallel.
A. Learn more about campus carry and engage with the gun-violence prevention community in Texas
- A primer, with links to relevant articles, is included below. (And below the primer are sample talking points drawn from the primer.) You don’t need to be an expert on campus carry to advocate your agenda effectively, but at least a basic working knowledge of the issues involved is necessary.
- Reach out,or volunteer, with groups such asMoms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (Texas Chapter),Texas Gun Sense, andThe Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. These are the primary groups, (along withStudents for Gun-Free Schools in Texas, which later became Texas Gun Sense), that helped defeat a combined total of over a dozen higher education and K-12 campus carry bills in the Texas Legislature since 2011 and have the experience and expertise to help you out.It’s a mistake to try do this all on your own.
- Reach out to established anti-campus carry university groups in Texas, such asGun-Free UT (UT-Austin),Students Against Campus Carry (UT-Austin),Gun-Free UH (The University of Houston), orGun-Free ACC (Austin Community College) to join the Texas public higher education community against guns-in-classrooms.
B. Organize your group and get started working
- Develop specific positions with specific tasks and responsibilities within your group. You’ll be much more organized, efficient, effective, and productive this way.
- One very important task is to track and monitor permitless carry and pro-campus-carry-related bills in the Texas Legislaturemthat are either introduced by House or Senate Republicans or attached as stipulations to Democrat-sponsored bills. If you don’t know what bills are coming up, you’ll be operating in a vacuum..
- Collaborate with other groups, such as those mentioned above, who share common goals.
- Find a champion in the Texas Legislature to guide you and be your ally on campus carry.
- Perhaps most importantly, there’s messaging. Although it’s important to say how you and other members of your campus community think and feel about guns in your classrooms, to defeat campus carry in the legislature – or to present a compelling case against it to other people, groups, or the media – it’s imperative to develop and use severalbrief, clear, and well-formulated talking points that are used semi-consistentlyacross the four engagement activities found just below.
- Engage with House and Senate Democrats (if such legislators exist in your district) to discuss how to push opt-out legislation and how to stop permitless carry and other legislation that makes campus carry more dangerous.
- Organize phone campaigns (and if possible visits) before pro-campus-carry-related bills are filed or receive a hearing to explain why they are bad for public and educational policy.
- Recruit members of your campus community to submit oral and written testimony on bills at “committee hearings where public testimony is taken,” held periodically at the Capitol.
- Engage within your campus to find allied groups andoutside your campus with broad state associations (e.g. Association of Community Colleges, American Federation of Teachers, Texas Association of College and University Police Administrators) to get them on board with your agenda.