College handgun bill likely dead this legislative session

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- With just over a month left in the 2013 legislative session, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee said he does not intend to have a hearing on legislation to let Texans with concealed-handgun permits carry firearms inside college and university buildings.

But Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, the measure's author, said he plans to work aggressively to pass the bill before lawmakers adjourn May 27.

"I'm not just going to accept that the bill won't get a hearing and go, 'Oh gee, oh well,'" Birdwell, who represents part of Tarrant County, told the Star-Telegram.

"Unfortunately, we're still waiting but we're still positive and we're not backing up or giving up."

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told reporters Wednesday that he doesn't plan to bring the bill up for a hearing by the Criminal Justice Committee.

He cited the need for a "cooling off" period from recent gun violence -- including the December slayings of 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Conn. -- before lawmakers move to allow guns inside college buildings.

Asked whether the Birdwell bill and similar legislation are dead for the session, Whitmire responded: "I think that would be a safe statement. It would be accurate."

Birdwell disputed that.

"I don't consider it dead," he said. "There is still a month left in session, and I'm not prepared to concede."

Whitmire's committee approved a bill by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, on Wednesday that would allow people licensed to carry handguns to keep them in vehicles at college and university parking lots. But Whitmire said allowing guns in the trunk of a parked car is a "completely different concept" from permitting them inside buildings.

"In today's environment, with some of the tragedies that we've witnessed, we need to kind of stand down in terms of broadening the concealed-weapon permittee's right to carry in what has previously been a prohibited area," Whitmire said. "So I respect the status quo.

"Hegar had a proposal that I thought was reasonable and did not conflict with my views that we need to stand down and allow a cooling-off of the discussion," Whitmire said, predicting that the full Senate will approve the Hegar bill.

People licensed to carry concealed handguns are permitted to have them on campus grounds but not inside buildings.

Birdwell's bill would allow them to carry their concealed weapons inside buildings at public and private universities. Private institutions could opt out.

Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, has taken the lead on the issue in the House, but other members, including Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, have also introduced bills to allow guns in campus buildings.

Texans must be 21 or older -- and must undergo firearm training and meet certain requirements -- to get concealed-handgun permits.

Those licensed to carry concealed handguns, Birdwell said, constitute "the most law-abiding subdivision of Texas."

Birdwell said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate's presiding officer, has assured him that he is "absolutely committed" to passing a campus gun bill during this session after failed attempts in two previous sessions.

"I would certainly like to get it voted out of the committee," Birdwell said. "Four of the seven members are either signed on to the bill or have told me they support it."

One option for Birdwell would be to tack his bill onto Hegar's legislation as an amendment when it comes to the Senate floor. But Birdwell told The Texas Tribune that he doesn't plan to do that.

"I need to take this fight on my own," he was quoted as saying. "I don't want to, in amending his bill, cause him any difficulty that would jeopardize his bill passing."

Birdwell also told the Tribune that he could try to have Fletcher's bill referred to a committee other than Whitmire's if it passes the House.

Another alternative would be to have his own bill transferred.

"We're not quitting over here," Birdwell said.

Dave Montgomery is the

Star-Telegram's Austin

Bureau chief.


Twitter @daveymontgomery

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