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Open carry on track to take effect Jan. 1

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2015, file photo, a gun-rights advocate carries a rifle on his back and a cardboard cutout of a pistol on his waist as a group protests outside the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas. Texas lawmakers on Friday, May 29, 2015, approved carrying handguns openly on the streets of the nation's second most-populous state, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who says he will sign it and reverse a ban dating to the post-Civil War era. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2015, file photo, a gun-rights advocate carries a rifle on his back and a cardboard cutout of a pistol on his waist as a group protests outside the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas. Texas lawmakers on Friday, May 29, 2015, approved carrying handguns openly on the streets of the nation's second most-populous state, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who says he will sign it and reverse a ban dating to the post-Civil War era. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) AP

Texas is one governor’s signature — and seven months — away from allowing openly carried handguns.

The House and Senate on Friday approved final changes to House Bill 910, allowing those with a concealed handgun license — soon to be known as a handgun license — to openly wear a firearm in a hip or shoulder holster.

Within minutes, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted his reaction: “Open Carry just passed in both the Texas House & Senate. Next destination: My Pen.”

Still unsettled is the fate of a campus carry bill that would allow licensed Texans to carry weapons on private and public university campuses statewide.

With Abbott’s signature, open carry will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, or four months later than most laws. The extra time was requested by the Department of Public Safety to help prepare law enforcement officers for the change.

The final version of HB 910 did not include an amendment, strongly opposed by law enforcement, that would have barred police from stopping armed people solely to verify that they had a handgun license.

The legislation was one of the top priorities for gun rights advocates heading into the 2015 legislative session.

Bill sponsor Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, said he was happy with the overall outcome and lauded Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for pushing a vote on the issue before the last weekend of the session, which ends June 1.

“I don't think that we could have accomplished this without the wisdom and guidance of the lieutenant governor,” Estes said after the bill's passage. He said Patrick made sure the measure got a vote Friday instead of Saturday, when Estes was afraid opponents might be able to kill the bill through a days-long filibuster.

“We think of Texas as being a gun happy state,” said House sponsor Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, “but we denied citizens the right that most other states afforded them. And so this was the time to do it.”

Open carry has been a top issue since the first day of the 2015 session on Jan. 13, when activists supporting unlicensed open carry rallied outside the Capitol. The issue made nearly daily headlines, as legislative leaders sparred over its importance and House members approved state-sponsored panic buttons after one lawmaker's particularly heated run-in with activists.

Phillips and Estes said the bad press might have slowed the legislation down, but could not kill it.

“We filed the bill early and it took a long time. But nothing significant is every easy around here,” said Estes.

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who threatened on Thursday to filibuster the bill this weekend, said he was disappointed Senate rules were suspended to allow its quick passage.

“I continue to believe this is a bad law, and I voted no. It's simple; I do not believe the proliferation of handguns in public spaces, which have no purpose other than to injure or kill, is good policy,” Rodríguez said in a statement. “This is not the kind of civil society we want, and it is not one to which we should succumb.”

Supporters celebrate

Gun rights advocates cheered Friday’s action and within hours were selling celebratory T-shirts that read: “Texas is officially the 45th open carry state. Better late than never.”

Open Carry Texas president and founder C.J. Grisham wrote on Facebook: “FINALLY! It’s been a long fight.”

Grisham praised his supporters and credited them with passage because they’ve “called, written, or spoken directly with every member of the 84th Legislature.”

He also had a message for his many critics: “We proved them all wrong.”

Now, Grisham said, open carry advocates need to show they can act responsibly under the new law.

“Our goal over the next two years is simple: prove the naysayers wrong and show that an armed society is a polite society; to prove that cops won't have trouble telling the difference between a good guy and a bad guy; and to prove that open carry won't result in people losing their minds in fear,” he wrote on Facebook.

Campus carry bill

Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers have convened a special committee to hammer out a compromise over campus carry after the Senate disagreed with changes the House made to the controversial bill.

On Wednesday, the House gave final approval to Senate Bill 11, which would expand where concealed carry license holders can bring their handguns on college campuses. Currently, they are only allowed to carry concealed in open, public areas, but not in buildings.

The House amended the bill to allow boards of regents to designate gun-free zones on their campuses — but not to totally ban concealed handguns — and also to mandate that private universities also implement the legislation.

Bill sponsor Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said he intended to accept the limited “opt out” amendment, but did not like the change that would impact private institutions of higher learning.

“We should not simply concur with legislation that subordinates one constitutional right to another,” said Birdwell. He reiterated his stance that requiring private universities to implement campus carry would infringe on their private property rights.

Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report, which includes material from the Austin American-Statesman and the Houston Chronicle.

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