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Campus guns bill delayed again in Texas Senate

Campus guns bill delayed again in Texas Senate

April 12th, 2011 by JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press in News

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Efforts to allow concealed handguns in college classrooms stalled in the Texas Senate for a second time Monday, leaving a measure that seemed headed for approval now struggling to survive.

The measure's Republican sponsor, Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, said he didn't have the necessary support to call the bill for a vote. Wentworth would not predict if or when he would try again.

"I'm hopeful this is a bump in the road," Wentworth said. "I don't have a very clear crystal ball."

The Senate had passed a similar bill in 2009 and Wentworth had assumed he would get it through the chamber again. With more than 80 lawmakers in the 150-member House already signed as co-authors and Gov. Rick Perry supporting it as well, many expected the bill would sail into law.

Supporters of allowing Texas concealed handgun license holders, who must be 21 and pass a training course, to carry their weapons into classrooms call it a critical self-defense measure and gun rights issue. Critics worry adding guns to campus life will lead to more violence and suicides.

The bill first ran into problems last week when it came up one vote shy of the 21 needed for a floor vote. Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, who originally supported the bill, changed his mind after college administrators in his district complained about the potentially high cost of liability insurance and adding security.

Gallegos also asked teachers he knows to poll their students.

"(They) overwhelmingly wanted me to vote against the bill," he said Monday.

Opponents said the bill may now be doomed.

"I hope so," said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. "It's a bad idea."

Supporters of the legislation argue the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Northern Illinois in 2008, and other campus violence such as rape and assault, show the best defense against a gunman is students who can shoot back.

"I want to give law-abiding citizens a reasonable means of defense beyond duck and hide," Wentworth said.

But similar measures have failed in about two dozen states since 2007. Texas became a prime battleground for the issue because of its gun culture and its size, with more than 500,000 students at 38 public universities.

Texas higher education officials have opposed the bill and legislative hearings have been dominated by testimony from students and professors on both sides of the issue.

"There's still a lot of support out there," said Daniel Crocker, spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. "There is a human cost. That human cost is going to be borne by those who are unable to defend themselves."

Several former University of Texas students who survived the 1966 campus shootings by sniper Charles Whitman have testified against the bill. Jim Bryce was a 25-year-old Texas student when he was pinned down by Whitman's gunfire and saw three friend shots.

"I don't think we're on the frontier like my great-grandmother was," Bryce said.