The Texas Senate took a final vote Saturday to approve legislation requiring the state’s public universities to allow handguns in dorms, classrooms and campus buildings.
Under the latest version of the bill, universities would be able to carve out gun-free zones in locations of their choice — establishing their own rules on where handguns are carried and how they're stored based on public safety concerns.
Only concealed handgun license holders would be allowed to carry their firearms on campus, and private universities would be allowed to opt out of the requirement altogether.
State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said his legislation would allow for “very limited, reasonable prohibitions” on handguns in certain locations on university property.
He said his intent was that public college campuses would be as “permissive and accessible” as possible to handgun license holders and that universities would be as “specific and as minimalistic as possible” in defining restricted areas.
The measure was approved along party lines with a 20-11 vote, with all of the chamber’s Democrats opposing it.
While acknowledging that the legislation had improved since its original form, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said she still believed it was “just bad policy.”
She expressed concern that handguns would now be permitted in an environment “already fraught with stress and often fragile emotions.”
The House is expected to take up the legislation on Sunday afternoon. It must pass that chamber before it heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign it once it reaches his desk.
On Tuesday, the bill narrowly avoided becoming a casualty of a key midnight deadline after House lawmakers brokered a last-minute deal to accept several amendments, including one that would require private universities to also allow handguns on campus.
Birdwell then requested a conference committee on the legislation to work out differences between the two chambers. He said at the time that he had concerns with the language added to include private universities in the new law.
"I am duty-bound to protect Second Amendment rights parallel to private property rights," said Birdwell. "We must protect most private property rights equally, and not protect one or the other.”
Lawmakers who argued for requiring private universities to follow the same rules as public institutions said it was a matter of fairness.
"If we are going to have it, I don’t know how I’m going to make a distinction between my kid who goes to Rice University and one kid at Houston," said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.