Texas has a reputation for being home to some gun-slinging cowboys. But a bill recently passed by the Texas State Senate may turn Texas college students into gunslingers, too. The bill would allow concealed firearms on all public properties — including college campuses. But the Texas House of Representatives, which has not yet considered the bill, must realize its dangerous implications. The bill fails to recognize that colleges and universities are places of learning that should foster an environment of enlightenment, not fear. The Texas House must defeat this bill or risk encouraging a dangerous trend that disturbs college campuses and infringes on universities’ autonomy.

The Texas Senate passed the bill on Wednesday by a vote of 19-12. The proposed law would allow concealed handguns on all public property, even elementary and high schools. Private institutions would be exempt. The bill does not change laws that restrict concealed carry permits to those over 21 who have passed criminal background checks and other training requirements. Half of the members of the House of Representatives have already committed to supporting the bill. If it passes, Texas will join West Virginia, Colorado and Utah in allowing guns on public university campuses. Furthermore, the Texas law will not let individual universities decide whether or not to allow guns on campus.

This bill challenges universities’ educational autonomy, which is essential to maintaining institutions of higher learning. Under the bill, public universities in Texas — even those that currently prohibit firearms on campus — would be forced to allow concealed weapons. Each campus is different, and each university should have the ability to determine what is best for its students. For the state to contradict its universities’ decisions regarding the safety of their students is naïve and irresponsibly heavy-handed.

The fear of being undefended in the event of a school shooting may have led more colleges and states to consider allowing guns on campus. But allowing guns on campuses isn’t the way to assuage this fear. Guns are an unnecessarily dangerous solution and better alternatives to keep students safe exist. Instead of arming students and deputizing them to participate in a Wild West-style shootout, it’s important for universities to focus on preventing these attacks from happening in the first place. Improving access to mental health care for students is one way of doing this. States, meanwhile, should maintain sensible restrictions and proper screening procedures to obtain a concealed carry weapon permit, ensuring that those who should not have access to a firearm ever get it.

Improved response plans can also eliminate the perceived need for firearms. Proper lockdown procedures and an informed faculty and staff can make a big difference in ensuring that campuses are safe, and so can emergency alert procedures like text-messaging and e-mail alert systems.

The Texas House must defeat this bill and focus its attention on making campuses safer. There is no question that students must be protected, but adding more guns is not the answer.

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