AUSTIN (AP/KXAN) — The Texas Senate has given preliminary approval to allowing concealed handguns in college classrooms, after passing a measure allowing open carry of guns most everywhere statewide.
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.
A flurry of debate over the details raged on while lawmakers voted on the amendments. Democrats stood to try and tinker with the bill authored by Sen. Brian Birdwell.
A major theme was why can’t public universities opt out, like the private one in Birdwell’s home district. “Baylor gets to make the decision because it’s private property,” said Birdwell.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, asked if the student body could vote to ban guns on their campus.
“Why shouldn’t students at our public universities, where we have more students, have an opportunity to participate,” said West. By a party line vote, the chamber voted no.
“A public campus belongs to all Texans. It’s best reserved for a general election ballot,” Birdwell responded.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked if firearms could be banned at tailgates on campus, or where alcohol is involved.
“Because you know we don’t allow firearms, in restaurants and bars, that serve alcohol,” he said.
“If a CHL holder is drinking alcohol, they’re already in violation of state law,” Birdwell replied.
There were more than 25 amendments, most of them were voted along party lines.
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.
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. As for UT Austin, if a student lives in a dorm and has a concealed handgun license, they would have to pay more to make sure their gun is secure.
A separate bill that cleared the Senate Tuesday allows Texans with gun licenses to carry firearms openly in most places except for college campuses.
The University of Texas System looked at how it would impact their campuses and future students will help foot part of the bill. During the first six years after being implemented, the UT System says it would cost them $40 million they would not otherwise spend. Part of that would be spent on 62 new employees, including 40 police officers, but none at UT Austin.