By Jim Vertuno and Will Weissert
AUSTIN — Texas would allow people to carry concealed handguns on college campuses under a measure given preliminary approval by the state Senate, just a day after it passed a proposal allowing open carry of guns almost anywhere in the state.
Panned by most student groups and key leaders of Texas’ top colleges — including a retired Navy SEAL who led the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden before becoming the University of Texas’ new chancellor — the “campus carry” bill nonetheless was strongly supported by gun rights groups and the Senate’s Republican majority. It sailed through on a 20-11 party line vote.
The bill still needs a final vote — likely Thursday — to send it to the GOP-controlled state House, where it will also enjoy strong support from many quarters, though passage is not a slam-dunk.
The measure would mandate allowing concealed carry at public universities. Private schools could still ban them. At least 20 states allow some form of campus carry, but only a handful make it a defined right in state law, as the Texas bill would.
In 2011, President and Chancellor Ken Starr rallied against a similar bill. He said the bill would most likely not affect Baylor, and that the university would not allow on campus carry.
Supporters say it will help students protect themselves in cases of assault or a campus shooter.
Opponents include University of Texas Chancellor and retired Adm. William McRaven, who has said it would make classrooms “less safe.”
Texas lawmakers have considered similar measures three times since 2009. Each produced heated debate before failing to pass the final hurdles to become law. Wednesday’s Senate debate took hours, but was largely tame.
Texas Rifle Association and the Senate’s new tea-party leadership support the measure.
The Senate has been able to work quickly because of a chamber rules change that severely hampered Democrats’ abilities to slow especially divisive bills. The GOP now can bring any bill that clears committee directly to the Senate floor, bypassing Democratic delays and avoiding having to insert language favorable to the minority party to ensure disputed measures move forward.
The bill approved Wednesday would allow those with proper licenses to carry concealed handguns into university classrooms and buildings.