Photo courtesy of Trey Martinez Fischer’s office
Q: The language in S.B. 11 is pretty vague in allowing university presidents to “amend the provisions necessary for campus safety.” Was this intentional?
I think the language is very instructive, allowing university presidents to adopt reasonable rules regarding guns on the campus itself, or on the premises located on or around the campus. This tells the presidents of universities that you need to convene the campus community and you will then direct the writing of a gun policy that takes some things into account. This puts all the local control, as well as the local pressure, on campus presidents to be very, very mindful when crafting a policy, and I think we’ve given these campus presidents more latitude (with the provision) than they originally had, which was none.
Q: So, the provision was written to grant university presidents discretionary powers in designating gun-free zones on campus?
I think it gives them options, yeah. I think options is really more appropriate; but yes, discretion, too, because the president is writing them. It actually empowers the president, which is not what the original S.B. 11 intended to do. This sends a very strong signal that local control should drive the adoption of the policy.
Q: The bill says the president “may not establish provisions that generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus.” Can you clarify what this means?
The best way that I can explain that, is that the prohibition of weapons on campus is defined and is stated in SB 11 to include a campus, which is the entire environment around the college or university, or a premise, which is defined in the penal code as a building or structure. So, if the legislature never intended for a weapons ban to be achieved inside a classroom, then we wouldn’t have ever given these presidents the authority to adopt restrictions on a premise. Every academic hall on UTSA’s campus would meet the definition of a premise.
Q: Are some universities within the UT system more enthusiastic about the implementation of campus carry than others? How do the cultures vary at different universities in relation to guns?
You know, I don’t know. This rewrite was done in the final days of the session, so there was a small opportunity to take a bad idea and make it better. I’ll admit, I voted against campus carry, and even after rewriting it, I voted against it, because I think it’s bad policy. I said this in a letter to Dr. Romo, “I understand that this law places a certain amount of pressure on you, and I want you to know that that was intentional. I intended for you to have this pressure, so that when you’re in a coffee shop or at a community event in San Antonio, I expect members of the greater San Antonio community to share with you their thoughts and views on this.
We want to make sure that there is a process for those individuals to voice their concerns, and at the same time, give the president something that he or she can do about it. This law not only gives people a voice, it gives the president a tool to act, and that’s what I hope will happen when UTSA adopts its campus policy.
Q: Would determining classrooms as gun-free violate “the spirit of the law”?
I would say that it’s the law itself and not the spirit that matters. It’s difficult enough to argue over the merits of a law as it is written and drafted. As to the spirit, that gives people more of a subjective opportunity to inject what they think the spirit is, and quite frankly, the only spirit that really matters is from the writers that rewrote it. And I don’t think that I was rewriting it, putting in all of that work to be flushed down the drain. What’s important, I think, is this: After visiting with Chancellor McRaven and other top deputies of the UT System last week, I am convinced that everybody sees the law on the UT System side as giving the university presidents the authority to ban guns in classrooms.
I actually said that in a letter very recently to President Romo. If people on the Task Force believe that that is not the case, I would urge them not to make any preliminary judgments. Every word the legislators put into the law has a meaning. And if there was never an intention to ban guns inside the classroom, we would never have given the regulatory powers to premises. The only reason why you’d even use the word premise on a college campus is to send a signal to the president that the campus is up for regulation as are premises located on the campus.
Q: Has anyone from UTSA’s Campus Carry Task Force reached out to you to get a better understanding of the law?
No, but I have actually offered that opportunity, so it’s my hope that they would, and I certainly would appreciate it. I’m a 1992 graduate from the university, and the district that I represent includes the 1604 campus. As the author of the rewrite, I could certainly tell them with first-hand knowledge what I meant when I chose those words. I want to make sure that all of the campus community stakeholders know exactly what’s there (in the law), and one thing that I’ve been surprised that hasn’t been discussed more is the fact that, the process, as its been rewritten, is meant to be a local one. The collaboration is supposed to be organic and the policy should.
Q: After President Romo submits his decision to the Board of Regents, only a two-thirds vote could overturn it. Is it likely that the Board of Regents, who were appointed by a conservative governor, overturn his decisions?
I think that, while they were appointed by the governor, there have been very limited instances where you have seen the hand of politics play a role in the deliberation of the regents. My sense is that the regents might not have the appetite that people think they’re going to have. When you set a bar as high as a two-thirds vote to overturn a president’s decision, I think that weighs in favor of the campus president to do his or her best work. The law itself is designed to afford that president a good amount of deference.
Q: What advice do you have for the Task Force? What would you like them to consider before submitting their recommendations to President Romo as their deadline approaches?
I think that some people are wanting enough time to print signs and put disclaimers in admissions catalogues, and that is not more important than getting the policy right. I think that there needs to be a recalculation of the timeline and afford more opportunity for deliberation, dialogue and collaboration to make sure that faculty is heard and that students are heard. If there’s a member of the Task Force who thinks that you can’t have a gun ban in classrooms, that’s a clear example that maybe we need to take a break here and recalibrate and make sure that everyone knows the limits of the law.