AUSTIN — Texas senators on Tuesday advanced modest changes to state gun laws, trading incremental progress across the political aisle as they approved new penalties for those who seek to buy guns for criminals and voted in favor of allowing college students to keep guns in their cars on campus.
Both measures came with promises made to ease suspicions on the floor of the chamber.
“It shows how we’re working together as a Senate,” said Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston.
In a 27-4 vote, the Senate approved a bill that would allow college students with concealed handgun licenses to keep their weapons locked in their cars on campus parking lots. Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, assured Democrats his bill would not be extended to include classrooms.
And in a unanimous vote minutes earlier, the Senate approved new criminal penalties for “straw purchasers.” Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, assured Republicans that his bill would not be extended to include new restrictions on gun ownership.
“Whenever there is a gun bill,” Sen. Patrick noted, “there is always concern by gun owners, Second Amendment rights, that something would be added to limit ammunition, limit guns et cetera.”
Prompted by a spate of mass shootings, gun reform efforts at the federal level have lost momentum since a broad proposal collapsed in a spectacular single day of voting.
But in Texas, one of the most permissive states for gun owners, lawmakers have proven willing to consider small changes desired by advocates on both sides of the issue.
Proposals to change the number of hours required for a concealed handgun license and to provide funds to train school employees in handgun use have gained bipartisan support.
West’s bill, SB 1348, represents a gun violence measure President Barack Obama tried without success to achieve in Congress.
From across the aisle, Patrick praised the bill as “sensible,” adding that “we don’t want people who are going to commit crimes to have these weapons.”
When the time came to present his parking lot measure, SB 1907, Hegar also sought to project sensibility, saying current restrictions unfairly single out college students.
As the law stands, universities can post signs banning guns on campus. Since the enactment of the state concealed weapons law in 1995, Hegar said, Texans have legally left their guns locked in parking lots while they visited other places that ban weapons, such as churches, bars and government meetings. His bill would also allow students with concealed handgun licenses — who must be 21 years old and must pass a training course — to store a gun in a locked car on campus.
During a debate on the Senate floor, Democratic Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso described the idea as dangerous.
“We have an issue in this country right now with violence on campus,” he said, adding later, “If they have ill will toward someone, all they’re going to have to do is walk over to their car and get the gun.”
Hegar dismissed those concerns, arguing that no person intending to do harm would leave the gun in the car in the first place.
Before the debate ended, Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, elicited Hegar’s promise not to add the more controversial measure known as “campus carry,” which would allow guns in the classroom, as an amendment later in the legislative process.
“I do not want that piece of legislation on here,” Hegar said. “That’s a totally separate issue.”
Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who has a campus-carry bill awaiting a committee hearing, promised not to achieve his goal by amending it to the parking lot bill.
“You’ve received my word on that,” he said.
Promises aside, the campus carry proposal remains an active subject of negotiation. In the House, a vote on just such a bill has been scheduled for Saturday.