AUSTIN -- A bill to allow concealed handguns on college campuses got the go-ahead from the Texas Senate in a vote along party lines Wednesday.
The smoke barely clear from Monday's debate over a bill to allow handguns to be carried openly in public, senators voted 20-11 to give preliminary approval to the so-called "campus carry" Senate Bill 11.
"Our CHL holders are the most law-abiding members of our society," State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), the bill's author, said at the beginning of Wednesday's debate.
"We are remedying the fact that right now CHL holders are barred from public property called campuses in the state of Texas," Birdwell told KVUE.
The bill would allow anyone with a concealed handgun license to carry on public higher education campuses. It contains language explicitly prohibiting handguns from being carried openly, regardless of whether "open carry" legislation passes into law.
"The legislature with my legislation will not delegate to public universities the decision as to whether citizens of this state will exercise this right or not," Birdwell told the Senate.
"The university administrations do not want it. Students are concerned about it," State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) told KVUE.
Democrats unsuccessfully offered amendments on Wednesday, including one by State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) that would have allowed public universities to opt out.
A similar amendment by State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Dallas) would have left the decision whether to allow concealed carry to the student body of each campus.
"'There is great concern that the presence of handguns even if limited to licensed individuals aged 21 and older would lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds,'" State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) quoted from a letter written by University of Texas system chancellor and retired Adm. William McRaven.
State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) referred to a letter from Texas A&M system chancellor John Sharp.
"The real question is this: Do I trust my students, faculty and staff to work and live responsibly under the same laws at the university as they do at home?'" read Schwertner. "'Of course I do.'"
"I think an intelligent conversation about certain people are qualified to have guns on campus, I don't see that as a problem," said veteran and University of Texas graduate student Dustin Stewart, who said the details of any campus carry legislation will be key.
"If it's on campus it should be locked in your vehicle, at the most," said junior Colleen Deis.
Visiting the University of Texas campus with her son, Rosalie Gabbay told KVUE, "I think the more guns on campus, the more chance of shootings on campus there'd be."
Handguns have dominated the first week the Senate has been able to vote on general items. Whitmire said his constituents, including Republicans, have questioned the prioritization.
"They really, really can't understand. They're concerned about highway congestion, public schools, funding our universities, social services," said Whitmire.
Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Emmanuel Garcia released a statement after the bill's passage calling campus carry a "fringe issue."
"This bill is yet another example of where the reckless priorities of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's Senate lie," said Garcia. "Allowing guns in classrooms is dangerous and ill-advised. Texas Democrats share the concerns of thousands of parents, students, professors and administrators for this bill -- including Adm. William McRaven, the new University of Texas System Chancellor."
"I am proud of the fact that the Texas Senate is making history while defending life, liberty and our Second Amendment Right," Patrick said in a statement praising the Senate vote.
Birdwell concluded to KVUE, "I think it says that the leadership is listening to the people of the state of Texas."