Texas lawmakers passed a bill allowing faculty and students to carry concealed handguns inside classrooms on public college campuses.
The legislation, approved over opposition from university officials, prevents schools from establishing their own rules banning guns, though under a last-minute amendment they can create “reasonable” regulations pertaining to the presence of firearms on school grounds.
It exempts campus hospitals and preschools and allows officials to regulate the storage of handguns in dormitories. Students must be over 21 with a permit to carry.
The bill now goes back to the Senate before being sent to Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has indicated support for such a measure. If signed, Texas will become the ninth U.S. state where concealed handguns are allowed by law on public college campuses.
This is the second major gun measure approved by the Texas legislature this month as the body faces the June 1 end of its session. Lawmakers passed a bill May 22 that will make Texas the most populous U.S. state to allow residents to carry handguns openly with a permit.
Firearms on campus have been a contentious issue since a student shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007. Proponents say armed students could fight back in the event of a mass shooting. Opponents say more guns could give rise to accidental shootings, student suicides and violence among professors and students engaged in heated debates.
The issue has evoked resistance from administrators and students at the University of Texas at Austin, a school haunted by the 1966 massacre by 25-year-old Charles Whitman who perched atop a campus tower with a rifle and killed 16 people and wounded dozens more.
This year, a survivor of that shooting and another from the Virginia Tech massacre testified in a committee hearing that arming students wouldn’t make campuses safer. William H. McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas System and a four-star admiral who led the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, argued that the policy would endanger students and teachers.
Twenty states ban concealed weapons from college campuses, while 23 allow individual schools to make their own policies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry in June 2013 signed a law allowing students and faculty to store weapons inside cars parked in a college campus lot. The issue has attained a greater sense of urgency since Tea Party Republicans won expanded majorities in both houses in November.
“Our parents, students, faculty, administrators, and law enforcement all continue to express their concerns that the presence of concealed handguns on campus would contribute to a less-safe environment, not a safer one,” McRaven wrote in a letter to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus.