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Guns on Campus Hits Roadblock

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    NEWSLETTERS

    flickr/tex1sam

    A bill allowing concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into Texas public university classrooms appears dead as lawmakers prepare to enter their final week of the session.

    The Senate author of the measure on Friday accused Republican House Speaker Joe Straus of preventing a vote on a bill that has the support of a large majority of the Legislature.

    "It's a fairly open secret that the Speaker doesn't like the bill," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio.

    The measure had already passed the Senate and more than 80 lawmakers in the 150-member House had signed on in support. But the House version of the bill has never been brought for a vote and the Senate version was knocked down without a vote on a parliamentary maneuver on Thursday night.

    Denying a vote on a bill with overwhelming lawmaker support is a "perversion of representative democracy," Wentworth said.

    The move to block the vote was brought by Democrats.

    The Senate had put the guns measure in a bill dealing with budget matters. House Democrats objected, saying that violated rules banning bills about more than one subject. The House parliamentarian agreed and the bill was sent back to the Senate to strip out the guns measure.

    Wentworth said he believes Straus pressured the parliamentarian to make the ruling.

    Straus said the House was following its rules.

    "Jeff should know the rules better," Straus said in a statement. "As a former House member, I'm sure he is aware of how we enforce the two-subject rule against Senate bills."

    Standing outside the House chamber, Straus chuckled and said, "It's not difficult to make Senator Wentworth angry."

    Wentworth said he'll keep trying to pass the bill before the session ends May 30. But rules limiting bills at this point and the rush to pass others leave him little time.

    Wentworth said his chances of reviving it are "pretty bleak."

    That's certainly not how it looked in January when the session began and lawmakers were lining up to support the bill.

    Supporters said they wanted college students and teachers to defend themselves in case someone starts shooting. They often pointed to the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech where a gunman killed 32 people.

    Opponents, including several survivors of the Virginia Tech shootings, argued that allowing concealed handguns would lead to more campus violence and suicides. The bill also has been opposed by higher education officials.

    The bill stalled on its first three votes in the Senate before supporters finally pushed it through that chamber. Opponents in the House were confident they could derail it there on a rules challenge.

    "Republicans have been more focused on giving students guns than on giving them a high-quality affordable education," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

    "Here's a novel idea: Let's give students financial aid instead of firearms," Villarreal said.

    Guns on campus bill have been rejected in at least 23 states since 2007.

    For supporters, Texas was the big prize that might push other states to follow, and early signs that the bill could pass captured the attention of international media that could not resist the state's gun-friendly frontier image.

    Texas is where concealed handgun license holders are allowed to skip metal detectors in the state Capitol, and Gov. Rick Perry made headlines for shooting a coyote on a morning jog last year.

    Perry has said he supports the campus guns measure and was expected to sign it into law if it ever reached his desk.

    "This is the clear will of the Legislature," a frustrated Wentworth said. "(But) my options are extremely limited."