This past Tuesday, I engaged in what has become my weekly (and sometimes biweekly) ritual of donning a suit, driving to the Texas Capitol, hunting for a parking space, showing my concealed handgun license to the state troopers guarding the entrance (so that I can bypass the metal detectors), and marching off to the darkest recesses of the statehouse’s underground extension, to lobby for campus carry. But unlike most of my Capitol trips, Tuesday’s held the promise of something special—a committee hearing.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee was scheduled to hear testimony on Senate Bill 354, Senator Jeff Wentworth’s campus carry bill. We’d heard that, unlike the House committee we addressed the week before, the Senate committee intended to limit the amount of time allotted to each witness. So I deviated from my standard operating procedure and wrote out my testimony beforehand.
Our sources indicated that witnesses would probably be allowed about three minutes each, at the discretion of the committee chair. In my practice runs, I’d been able to get through my prepared testimony in about five minutes, so my plan was to watch the first few witnesses and determine how strictly the committee chair was enforcing this three-minute time limit. If it was being strictly enforced, I could do some quick editing and trim my comments to fit.
At the commencement of the hearing, the committee chair told us he would prefer that witnesses try to keep their comments to about two minutes. Though two minutes is shorter than three, I was relieved that he phrased it as a polite request, not an inflexible command. And after sitting through several testimonies, most of which went at least a minute or two over the two-minute mark and none of which got so much as a word of warning from the committee chair, I felt confident that my five-minute testimony would not be a problem, especially in light of the fact that it was intended to represent the 44,000 members of SCCC.
When my name was called, I was fully confident that all would go according to plan. But then, as I began delivering SCCC’s official testimony, the committee chair got up and left the room, leaving the vice chair in charge. And about three minutes into my speech, she decided she’d heard enough and cut me off. Nobody was cut off before me, and as soon as I stepped down, the committee chair returned to his seat and resumed letting witnesses prattle on to their hearts’ content. But my testimony was cut short.
It was a frustrating bit of bad luck made all the more frustrating because of what exactly the committee didn’t hear. I’d just laid out SCCC’s official position and was about to offer an example of why we hold to that position, when I was told I’d said enough. This is what I didn’t get to say:
Our opponents chastise Texas legislators for pursuing this legislation despite the recommendations of the Virginia Tech Review Panel. But the Virginia Tech Review Panel never looked at Texas, and it never looked at the colleges that already allow concealed carry on campus. Instead, the panel based its recommendation against allowing concealed carry on campus on comments from students who said they’d be afraid to sit next to someone carrying a gun and on interviews with police officers in New York City—a metropolitan area that does not allow concealed carry.
Our opponents suggest that, because we do not agree with the crime victims on their side of the debate, we are ignoring crime victims altogether. But in truth, there are victims on both sides of this debate.
For a little insight into this issue, I ask you to look back at October 22, 2007. For me, that date will always represent the day Students for Concealed Carry on Campus transitioned from an idea into a movement. That was the first day of our first annual empty holster protest, an event that has since become the signature of our organization. But for one concealed handgun license holder, a young woman by the name of Amanda Collins, that day holds a much different significance.
October 22, 2007, was the day she was brutally raped in a parking garage at the University of Nevada. Because the laws in Nevada are very much like they are here in Texas, she was legally prohibited from carrying her concealed handgun on campus. So, unable to carry the one measure of personal protection she truly desired, she did her best to follow all of the school’s recommended security procedures—she parked in a well lit area close to her classroom and walked back to the parking garage with a group of friends.
After reaching the parking garage and bidding her friends goodbye, she walked carefully toward her car, watching for anything suspicious. Suddenly, a man lunged from the shadows and grabbed her. She quickly saw that this man did not share her respect for the university’s status as a “gun free” zone—he was carrying a handgun.
Last week, Amanda Collins told the Nevada Legislature, which is also considering a campus carry bill, that there were times throughout her traumatic ordeal when she could have put an end to it if only she’d been allowed the same means of personal protection that Nevada law allowed her virtually everywhere else in the state. But because she wasn’t allowed that means of personal protection, she was savagely raped on a cold parking garage floor, just 300 yards from the front door of the campus police department.
So convinced is Amanda that her concealed handgun would have enabled her to prevent the assault that when I asked if I could share her story at this hearing, she offered to come to Texas and testify herself. But rather than put her through a second traumatic hearing in less than one week, we’ve instead provided you with transcripts of the testimony she delivered before the Nevada Legislature. I hope you’ll take the time to review Amanda’s story and see what it means to be truly defenseless.
As Texas Legislators, you have a choice. You can allow this issue to be sidetracked by contrived, hypothetical scenarios that haven’t played out on any of the campuses where concealed carry is currently allowed, or you can look beyond our opponents’ never ending game of make believe and amend Texas law so that it no longer stacks the odds in favor of any depraved lunatic willing to ignore it.
Before I go, I want to leave you with this final thought: The assailant who attacked Amanda Collins went on to rape at least two more women. He was finally apprehended and convicted of these crimes after his final victim was found buried under a rotting Christmas tree in a vacant lot. She’d been dead for almost four weeks.