Allowing Texans to carry concealed handguns on college campuses has a hefty price tag.
Officials at public colleges say the plan, which is rapidly moving through the Legislature, could cost them nearly $50 million in coming years — an expense that could be passed to students.
The cost is high, they say, because additional officers, training, storage facilities and security technology would be needed if the proposal to allow “campus carry” becomes law.
“It will cost our schools and universities, ultimately our students and taxpayers, tens of millions of dollars,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who opposes the plan. “It won’t make our schools safer. It will make them more dangerous.”
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Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who is carrying the bill in the Senate, said he believes that the cost estimates and criticisms are way off target.
“It is patently absurd to suggest that additional security resources would be needed to accommodate faculty, staff or student [concealed-handgun-license holders] on Texas campuses,” Birdwell said in a statement.
“CHL-holders are statistically the most law-abiding citizens in our state, and I think it’s bordering on offensive to suggest that they will conduct themselves any less thoughtfully or lawfully the moment they set foot inside a university building.”
Projections from the University of Texas System alone, which includes the University of Texas at Arlington, show that implementing the bill could cost $39 million over six years, with most of that cost at the health institutions, according to paperwork submitted to the Legislature.
Estimates from the University of North Texas System, which includes the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth, include $1 million in upfront costs and ongoing expenses of $250,000, state records show.
The proposal, Senate Bill 11, would allow concealed handguns on the campuses of public universities. Birdwell calls it a “campus personal protection act.”
Twenty years after lawmakers first made it legal to carry concealed handguns in most places, SB11 passed a key Senate committee last month and could soon head to the Senate floor for debate.
College officials say they will have plenty to do to get ready if the bill becomes law.
The UT System pegs the overall bill at $39 million. Costs are not broken down by campus, but descriptions are given of what each campus needs, according to documents submitted to the Legislative Budget Board.
UT Arlington would need for police to “educate the campus community about this law and to remind concealed carry licensed owners how important it is to remain in compliance with the concealed carry laws at all times,” according to documents submitted to lawmakers.
“UT Arlington could also adopt rules or regulations regarding the storage of handguns in dormitories or other residential buildings owned or operated by UT Arlington or located on the campuses of the UT Arlington. The cost of gun storage in dormitories and other residential facilities will be passed on to the students in future rent rates.”
The UNT projection is just for the campus in Denton — the only one with student housing, said Beverly Cotton, UNT’s associate vice president for budget and analytics.
It notes that “more firearms in the hands of unknown CHL holders will increase the risks of firearms incidents since more firearms will be readily available.”
UNT officials also cite “unmeasurable costs,” ranging from the “accidental discharge or misuse of firearms at parties” to “the potential for guns to be used as a means to settle disputes between or among students.”
They are also concerned about suicides and the theft of weapons left in vehicles or lockers, documents show. Officials said that they don’t have figures on the cost for the health science center but that there will be “initial and then ongoing training costs for our police department, as well as additional personnel costs.”
Other estimates for the coming years include $7 million for the Texas Tech University System, $2.5 million for the Texas State University System and nearly $8 million for the University of Houston, documents show.
Costs include hiring more police and security officers, boosting training for officers and providing storage space for the handguns. Also included are signs, cameras and classes to boost campus awareness of concealed-handgun rules.
Concerns were expressed about the impact of campus carry.
At the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso, officials expressed concern that patients might stay away, choosing a setting where officials can restrict guns, documents show. “Reduced patient population would impact number of patients and case types for teaching our students.”
Birdwell stresses that any areas now off limits under the concealed-handgun law, such as hospitals, child-care centers and football stadiums, would remain so on college campuses.
The bill is unlikely to affect most medical facilities, except administrative buildings with no medical services, he has said.
Sens. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, are among the co-authors of campus carry.
UT System Chancellor William McRaven has said he worries that concealed handguns will make campuses less safe because stress and guns are a bad mix. In a letter to lawmakers, he expressed concern about accidental shootings and suicides, as well as the fear that concealed handguns “will make campus a less safe place.”
Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp also sent a letter to lawmakers, saying he has “complete trust and faith” in his students and professors, which is why Texas A&M “will not have a position on this issue and will not oppose campus carry.”
UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson noted that the bill might negatively affect a “younger than average population, some living away from home for the first time.”
“My only suggestion for improvement … would be to delegate some of this responsibility” to those who govern the universities.
Turner, the Grand Prairie Democrat, said he hopes that House members will look at the “real cost” of the measure.
“This is an invented issue designed to appeal to a narrow sliver of the Republican base,” he said. “We ought to be listening to our higher-education leaders and law enforcement officials and reject campus carry.”
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610