Bill allowing more weapons on college campuses advances

Posted Wednesday, May. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Students with concealed handgun licenses would be allowed to keep guns in locked cars on college and university campuses under a bill approved Tuesday by the Texas Senate.

The vote came just days before House members battle over broader legislation that would permit guns inside campus buildings. That showdown is scheduled for Saturday.

The bill debated Tuesday passed the Senate on a 27-4 vote. The measure by Sen. Glenn Hegar Jr., R-Katy, would allow holders of concealed carry permits to keep their weapons in locked vehicles on the streets or parking areas of public and private colleges and universities.

Although the bill is more widely supported than the so-called campus-carry bill that House members will debate Saturday, Sen. Jose Rodriquez, D-El Paso, said he opposed the presence of firearms at colleges and universities.

“It seems to me that we really are endangering the lives of the university community by allowing these kinds of measures,” Rodriquez said. If gun-owners get upset or “have ill-will toward someone, all they have to do is walk over to their car and get the gun.”

But Hegar said he felt it was unfair for students attending a college or university not to be able to keep a weapon stored “out of sight, out of mind” in their locked vehicle.

“Too often we put up barriers and restrictions for law-abiding citizens,” said Hegar. They’re the ones who get punished rather than the criminals ... They simply want to leave it in their own personal car and they have no intent to do harm to anyone.”

Hegar’s bill, SB1907, has had smoother sailing than a measure by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, that would permit those licensed to carry concealed handgun to have the firearms inside campus buildings.

Birdwell’s bill, similar to the measure scheduled for debate in the House, is stalled in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the committee chairman, has said he does not plan to bring SB182 up for a hearing, declaring the measure effectively dead for the session.

Whitmire’s objections also raise questions about the ultimate fate of the House bill, HB972, sponsored by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball. With more than a third of the 150 House members signed on as supporters, the Fletcher bill is favored to pass the House but could face a hostile reception on the other side of the capitol.

Dewhurst on board

Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate’s presiding officer, signaled his intention to get behind the guns on campus measure. “He’s a strong supporter of it and he will work very hard to pass it in the Senate,” said Dewhurst spokesman Travis Considine.

Seven Republicans in the 11-member Tarrant County House delegation are among the 56 House co-authors of the Fletcher bill: Reps. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Bill Zedler of Arlington, and Charlie Geren, Craig Goldman, Stephanie Klick and Matt Krause of Fort Worth.

Birdwell, who represents part of Tarrant County, said in an interview Tuesday that he has “remained in close contact” with Fletcher to discuss options after the House bill reaches the Senate.

“If it got assigned to Sen. Whitmire’s committee, that would add another level of difficulty,” said Birdwell.

Dewhurst could send the bill to another committee but Birdwell said he does not have the votes to bring the campus gun bill up for debate on the Senate floor. Asked if he is close, Birdwell said: “Not close enough.”

Considine said Dewhurst will “talk with senators” after the bill reaches the Senate and decide which committee to refer the bill to.

During the Senate debate on Tuesday, Birdwell and Hegar assured senators that they would not use Hegar’s bill as a vehicle to attach the broader campus gun measure.

Davis concerned

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, told Hegar she planned to support his bill but said she wanted his assurance that “you will not allow that opening, that broad opening to become a part of what you’re passing out of here today.”

“You understand that there are many of us in the Senate chamber who are concerned about the broader impacts of carrying on campus,” she said.

Hegar told Davis that he did not intend to place the other measure on his bill in “any shape, form or fashion.”

“I do not want that piece of legislation on here because that’s a totally separate issue,” Hegar said.

Davis, in a statement later, said that “it is important that the local control of colleges and universities over their campuses be preserved with regard to carrying guns on campus."

Four Democrats voted against Hegar’s bill: Rodriguez, Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, Eddie Lucio Jr., Brownsville, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau chief, 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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