Texas lawmakers reach agreement on open carry bill

AUSTIN (AP) — Texas lawmakers on Thursday negotiated a final version of a bill allowing licensed open carry of handguns, easing concerns of police and priming it for a vote that would send it to Gov. Greg Abbott.

House and Senate negotiators said they stripped out a no-stop provision — language that sought to bar police from demanding to see the license of someone carrying a gun if they had no other reason to stop the person.

That component had passed both Republican-dominated chambers by large margins, but later prompted angry rebuttal from law enforcement around the state. Police called it a “game changer” that would endanger officers and the public.

A final vote could come as early as Friday. The legislative session ends Monday.

Open carry has been one of the major gun-rights issues of the legislative session, and Abbott has pledged to sign it into law. Texas allows concealed handguns, but has banned open carry since the post-Civil War era.

If passed, Texas would be one of the last states to allow some form of open carry, but would be the largest by population to do so.

The session’s other gun-rights bill, allowing concealed handguns in college classrooms, lurched toward resolution with an agreement to let schools create “reasonable” gun-free zones. The last point to resolve is whether to force private universities to allow weapons.

Both bills were viewed as likely to pass this session, but were pushed to the brink in its final days.

The open carry controversy erupted last week when an unusual Senate coalition of liberals and tea party conservatives teamed up to support the no-stop provision. Conservatives said police shouldn’t harass law-abiding citizens. Minority lawmakers called it protection from racial profiling.

“If I get a gun, I guess I’d better put my hands up,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who is black.

The bill was set for a final vote to clear the Legislature on Wednesday, before angry objections from police forced it back into negotiations and the no-stop language was quickly taken out.

Sen. Don Huffines, a Dallas Republican who supported the ban, said he was disappointed but will vote to pass the bill anyway.

“I thought the will of the Legislature had spoken on this issue,” Huffines said. “I am in complete support of open carry.”

Opponents of allowing concealed handguns in college classrooms won a major victory with the provision for gun-free zones.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, the Senate sponsor and chief negotiator, said he’ll accept the gun-free zones but will fight attempts to mandate that private universities allow guns at their schools. He calls it a private-property rights issue that would collide with the state’s existing concealed handguns law that allows property owners to prohibit weapons.

“Private universities, whose property is private, must be respected,” said Birdwell, a Granbury Republican whose district includes Baylor University, a private Baptist school.

The campus carry measure has prompted fierce resistance from Democrats, law enforcement and some higher education officials, most notably from University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, the former Navy SEAL who coordinated the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

McRaven has told lawmakers that guns in classrooms will make schools “less safe” and will stifle free speech on campus.

The gun-free zones provision would not allow schools to ban weapons from an entire campus. Any restrictions would have to be approved by a school’s board of regents and would be subject to review by lawmakers.

Democrats who still oppose the bill said the provision gives universities greater control over their campuses.

“It allows schools a level of self-determination if faced with this,” said Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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