AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas would allow people to carry concealed handguns on college campuses under a measure given preliminary approval by the state Senate, just a day after it passed a proposal allowing open carry of guns almost anywhere in the state.
Panned by most student groups and key leaders of Texas’ top colleges — including a retired Navy SEAL who led the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden before becoming the University of Texas’ new chancellor — the “campus carry” bill nonetheless was strongly supported by gun rights groups and the Senate’s Republican majority. It sailed through on a 20-11 party line vote.
The bill still needs a final vote — likely Thursday — to send it to the GOP-controlled state House, where it will also enjoy strong support from many quarters, though passage is not a slam-dunk.
The measure would mandate allowing concealed carry at public universities. Private schools could still ban them. At least 20 states allow some form of campus carry, but only a handful make it a defined right in state law, as the Texas bill would.
Supporters say it will help students protect themselves in cases of assault or a campus shooter.
“Students have expressed concerns to me about their ability to protect themselves,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who several times invoked a “God-given” right to self-defense. “It’s time we don’t imperil their safety.”
Opponents include University of Texas Chancellor and retired Adm. William McRaven, who has said it would make classrooms “less safe.”
Texas lawmakers have considered similar measures three times since 2009. Each produced heated debate before failing to pass the final hurdles to become law. Wednesday’s Senate debate took hours, but was largely tame.
Texas Rifle Association and the Senate’s new tea-party leadership support the measure.
The Senate has been able to work quickly on hot-button gun because of a chamber rules change that severely hampered Democrats’ abilities to slow especially divisive bills. The GOP now can bring any bill that clears committee directly to the Senate floor, bypassing Democratic delays and avoiding having to insert language favorable to the minority party to ensure disputed measures move forward.
The chamber is led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a tea-party favorite and former talk radio personality who says he was elected to push already conservative Texas farther to the right. In the House, fellow Republican Speaker Joe Straus has a more deliberate approach and members have yet to consider either “campus carry” or the proposal allowing open carry of handguns.
The bill approved Wednesday would allow those with proper licenses to carry concealed handguns into university classrooms and buildings. Permit holders must be 21, take a class and pass a background check and shooting test.
A separate bill that cleared the Senate Tuesday allows Texans with gun licenses to carry firearms openly in most places except for college campuses.
“It’s disturbing to see some of our lawmakers ignoring the majority of Texans and college stakeholders who oppose guns on campus and instead bowing to the gun lobby and extremist interests,” said Sandy Chasse, a university language instructor and volunteer with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.