Texas Set to Allow Concealed Handguns in Public Universities
Republicans in state senate approve 'self-defence' measure despite resistance from higher education officials
The holders of concealed handgun licences are set to be allowed to carry weapons into public college buildings and classrooms in Texas, after Republicans in the state senate approved the measure as part of a universities spending bill.
Republican senator Jeff Wentworth had been unable to gain the votes he needed to pass the issue as its own bill after it met stiff resistance from higher education officials, particularly from within the University of Texas UT-System.
The senate's 12 Democrats had mostly worked together to block the measure but were powerless to stop it on Monday when a majority in the 31-member chamber got it added to the spending bill as an amendment.
Supporters hope the vote will help push the measure past a roadblock in the house, where a similar bill has been stuck without a vote in that chamber with just a few weeks left in the legislative term.
"Campus carry has more momentum than a runaway freight train," said Scott Lewis of Students for Concealed Carry, a nationwide group backing the measure.
Supporters call it a self-defence and guns rights issue. UT-System chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa, wrote to politicians and Governor Rick Perry outlining concerns that the measure will lead to more campus crime and suicides.
Hearings were dominated by testimony from supporters who had been raped or assaulted on college campuses, and several people who had survived the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech University when a gunman killed 32 people.
Democratic senator Judith Zaffirini, who was a student at the University of Texas in 1966 when sniper Charles Whitman killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others, argued against the bill. She predicted mass chaos if police responded to a call and found several people with guns drawn.
"I can't imagine the horrors if this passes," Zaffirini said.
Wentworth, recalling the shooting at Virginia Tech, said he wanted to give students a chance to defend themselves.
"There was no one there to defend themselves in a gun-free zone that was a victim-rich zone," he said. "I'm trying to avoid that type of situation."
Texas passed its concealed handgun licence law in 1995. Licence holders must be at least 21 and pass a training course.
Guns on campus bills have been rejected in at least 23 states since 2007. The bill originally covered private universities, but was changed to cover only public institutions of higher education. The senate rejected attempts to allow university boards of regents to decide gun policy on their campuses.
Concealed handgun licence holders in Texas are allowed to skip metal detectors in the state capitol. Perry made headlines for shooting a coyote on a morning jog last year.
Earlier on Monday, senators voted to allow themselves to carry concealed handguns into places the rest of the public cannot, such as churches, restaurants and sporting events.
Perry has said he supports the campus guns measure and is expected to sign it into law if it reaches his desk.