Proposals that would give Texas college students and professors the right to carry guns into the classroom are scheduled to get their first hearing in the Legislature on Wednesday.
The proposals would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons around campus, including in buildings and classrooms. Supporters say it’s a gun-rights issue and critical self-defense measure to prevent violent crime and mass shootings such as the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. Opponents, including some university administrators, say guns will only make campuses more dangerous.
The House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety has scheduled a hearing to listen to public testimony Wednesday and possibly vote on a bill.
Texas has become a prime battleground for a national campaign to open campuses to firearms because of its gun culture and its size, with 38 public universities and more than 500,000 students. Texas would become the second state, following Utah, to pass such a broad-based law. Colorado gives colleges the option and several have allowed handguns.
The Texas Senate passed one such bill in 2009, but it died without a vote in the House. This year, more than half of the 150 members in the Republican-leaning House have signed as on co-authors of one of the bills, and the issue is supported by Gov. Rick Perry, boosting its chances of becoming law.
Similar firearms measures have been proposed in about a dozen other states, but all have faced strong opposition, especially from college leaders.
The chancellor of the University of Texas system recently wrote Perry and state lawmakers telling them school administrators do not want guns on campus.
Until the Virginia Tech killings, the worst college shooting in U.S. history occurred at the University of Texas at Austin, when sniper Charles Whitman went to the top of the administration tower in 1966 and killed 16 people and wounded dozens. Last September, a University of Texas student fired several shots from an assault rifle on a campus street before killing himself.
Texas enacted its concealed handgun law in 1995, allowing people 21 or older to carry weapons if they pass a training course and a background check. The state had 461,724 license holders as of Dec. 31, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Businesses, schools and churches can set rules banning guns on their premises. On college campuses, guns are prohibited in buildings, dorms and certain grounds around them.
Opponents of campus gun rights say students and faculty would live in fear of their classmates and colleagues, not knowing who might pull a gun over a poor grade, a broken romance or drunken argument.