Texas lawmaker wants to expand campus carry to K-12 schools

To say that gun control advocates didn’t have a good Election Day in Texas last November is putting it mildly. Not only did Gov. Greg Abbott trounce Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke in the gubernatorial race, Republicans maintained their majorities in both chambers of the legislature; picking up a seat in both the state House and Senate. That ensures that anti-gun measures like raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 or banning so-called assault weapons are going nowhere this session, but it also provides an opportunity to expand the state’s already robust protections for the right to keep and bear arms.

We’ve already seen a number of bills introduced ahead of the 2023 legislative session’s kick-off on January 10th, including several anti-gun owner measures crafted by Democrats like a “red flag” law and universal background checks, but some Republicans have been busy crafting legislation of their own. State Sen. Bob Hall, for instance, has authored SB 354; a measure that would expand the state’s current campus carry law to include public or charter school campuses.

This isn’t the first time that Hall has proposed the legislation; back in 2021 the Republican introduced a virtually identical bill that ended up dying in committee. With school safety and security expected to be a big issue for legislators this year in the wake of the murders at Robb Elementary in Uvalde last May, however, I’m curious to see if Hall’s idea is able to get any more traction this time around.

“Senate Bill 354, Campus Carry, would simply allow law-abiding citizens with a license-to-carry in schools in the places that are currently banned, such as inside school buildings, or on grounds or buildings where school-sponsored activities are happening,” Hall said in a press release on Thursday. “This would be a critical measure that bans gun-free zones on school grounds that act as magnets towards those who wish violence against our children and educators.”

Under the bill, school districts would also be unable to adopt rules prohibiting licensed teachers from keeping guns in their cars on school property.

Under SB 354, public and charter school employees who possess a concealed carry license would be able to lawfully possess their firearms while on campus, regardless of whether or not the district has adopted the School Marshal or Guardian programs; both of which allow for districts to authorize employees to carry while on the job. But the measure also allows for concealed carry holders who aren’t employed by the school system to carry on campus as well. Two years ago, when Hall first introduced the measure, he rightfully declared that “the more people there are who can protect, the safer our society is,” but his argument failed to win over many of his fellow Rebublicans, at least when it came to concealed carry on K-12 schools.

I suspect the same holds true this session, and while we’re likely to see one or more pro-2A measures signed into law by Abbott, I doubt that Hall’s legislation will be among them. Instead, I think it’s more likely that lawmakers will look to expand the existing School Marshal and Guardian programs. In fact, a Senate committee established to examine the Uvalde murders and make legislative suggestions included changes to the School Marshal program in their latest report.

Texas allows school employees to carry guns on campuses through a marshal program, but it’s not widely adopted.

There are currently 279 appointed school marshals in Texas, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. They are allowed in public school districts, private schools and community colleges.

The Senate committee members urge lawmakers to improve the program and resolve its capacity restraints.

They suggested the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement expand training across the state by adding more providers and offering sessions several times a year so that more schools can participate.

The Legislature should also consider expanding the list of people who are eligible to become a marshal, according to the report, including by loosening requirements for who is allowed to carry.

“Currently, school marshals must have a valid license to carry,” it reads. “The Legislature should consider adding retired peace officers and honorably discharged veterans who do not have a license to carry to that list.”

Between the Marshal and Guardian programs, about 1/4 of Texas school districts have armed staff members in place on at least one campus, and the numbers continue to grow; particularly for the Guardian program. Unlike the School Marshal system, which requires 80 hours of law enforcement training and is regulated by the state, the Guardian program gives far more oversight authority to local school boards, and generally requires about 16 hours of additional training before staff members are approved to carry on campus.

Expanding the use of both existing programs is going to be more politically palatable to most Republican lawmakers than Hall’s proposal, especially since his legislation is likely to draw opposition from many school boards across the state (even in pro-2A territory) upset over the prospect of ceding any of their current authority. Hall’s idea might be more popular if it allowed districts to opt-in-or-out to the campus carry policies his legislation mandates, but in its current form I would be surprised to see it get much further than it did in 2021, and nowhere near Gov. Abbott’s desk.