Texas schools could train teachers as armed marshals to exchange gunfire with potential attackers under a bill approved by state lawmakers and sent to Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, while a key lawmaker said attempts to allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into college classrooms is likely dead.
A bipartisan 28-3 Senate vote gave final approval to the marshals bill, which was proposed after the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It had already passed the House over the objection of the Texas State Teachers Association.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, had pushed lawmakers to help school districts provide teachers or other employees with special weapons and tactical response training.
The bill allows school districts and charter schools to place one armed marshal on campus for every 400 students. After 80 hours of training, the marshals could bring a weapon on campus. Their identities would not be subject to public records law.
Marshals working directly with students would have to keep their guns in a lockbox "within immediate reach," according to the measure. Marshals not working with students would be allowed to carry concealed weapons.
Although many larger school districts employ their own police forces, many smaller districts cannot afford to do so. In testimony early in the session, several small rural districts said they needed marshals or armed teachers to protect students because police response might be too slow in a shooting incident.
Teachers groups had complained that school safety should be provided by professional security and not thrust on educators. They were disturbed when law enforcement experts testified that armed teachers could be shot by police responding to an incident.
Teachers are already permitted to carry guns in class with the permission of their local school boards, though few districts have granted permission.
The bill follows several other new measures relaxing gun restrictions. Earlier this month, the Legislature approved cutting by half the training requirements for a concealed handgun license. Texas has more than 500,000 concealed handgun license holders.
Efforts to allow license holders to carry guns into college classrooms appeared dead this session after being stalled for weeks. Although the measure has already passed the House, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said Democrats had effectively blocked it in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Birdwell needed 25 votes in the 31-member chamber to pass the bill before Wednesday's deadline. Republicans hold a 19-12 majority. Democrats have formed a solid block of opposition to the guns on campus proposal, stifling attempts to enact the bill and making Republicans promise not to use late-session tactics such as attaching the bill as an amendment to another measure.
The guns on campus bill has been a flashpoint for the gun control debate in Texas for years and has been opposed by higher education leaders who fear allowing guns will lead to more campus violence, including suicides.
Supporters call it a simple self-defense measure and gun rights issue. Birdwell had hoped to soften university opposition by allowing individual campuses to opt out of allowing guns.
"The Second Amendment is not about the gun," Birdwell said. "It's about the right to self-preservation."