The Texas Senate gave inital approval to its campus carry bill after it was brought to the floor Wednesday for its second reading.
Campus carry would allow licensed handgun owners over 21 years of age to carry their handguns on public college and university campuses, including inside campus buildings. SB 11 will likely receive a third and final reading Thursday.
“My concern is to expand the freedom of our most trustworthy citizens,” Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), primary author of the bill, said.
Senators proposed a total of 25 amendments to the bill, 22 of which were tabled in a series of party-line votes.
Birdwell accepted three amendments – one preventing open carry on college campuses, one creating misdemeanor charges for violating private campus’ concealed handgun policies and another extending a private institution’s campus carry policy to off-campus facilities used for school sponsored events.
Handguns would not be allowed in areas where Birdwell said they are currently prohibited under state law, such as sporting areas, dormitories, hospitals, preschools and grade schools.
Sens. Judith Zaffirni (D-Laredo), Royce West (D-Dallas) and José Rodriguez (D-El Paso) each proposed amendments asking that Birdwell make areas on campuses, such as bars, churches, medical clinics, laboratories, events with guest speakers and federally classified research sites, exempt from campus carry.
Birdwell said he wanted consistency on and off campus about where guns are allowed and turned down each amendment.
“My intent is to create identical circumstances both off campus and on campus,” Birdwell said.
Multiple senators, including Zaffirini, also suggested that individual public universities and colleges have the ability to opt in or out of implementing campus carry.
“Maybe an institution in West Texas might like it, while an intuition in a metropolitan area would not,” Zaffirini said.
West said he believes the student body should vote on whether to implement the policy.
“Why shouldn’t students at our public institutions have the opportunity to participate in making a decision as to if we’ll have [campus] carry,” West said.
Birdwell said that while he welcomes student input, student opinions are best expressed in general elections.
“I’m not going to have a state constitutional right subject to a student body vote,” Birdwell said.
UT students and officials, such as President William Powers Jr., UT System Chancellor William McRaven, Faculty Council and Student Government, have spoken out against campus carry.
“I think the general view is, there are situations that can be volatile, and when a gun is present and alcohol is involved, or whatever, I think in the aggregate that’s a dangerous situation,” Powers said in a previous interview. “I believe our law enforcement professionals agree with that.”
Any expenses incurred as a result of campus carry implementation will be funded by individual colleges and universities. Campus carry would cost the UT System $39 million, according to fiscal notes submitted to the Legislative Budget Board. UT-Austin did not estimate any costs associated with campus carry.
“I do not believe that universities will bear a large cost or even a modest costs associated with implementation of this,” Birdwell said. “Because it is based upon the discipline of our [Concealed Handgun License] holders that for the past 20 years have been exceedingly responsible and well disciplined.”
A House equivalent of SB 11 was left pending in committee meeting Tuesday.