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Texas Senate set to pass 'campus carry' bill: How common are guns on campus?

Texas may soon allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses – one of a growing number of states weighing similar legislation.

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    Protestors rally on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho to protest SB1254, a bill seeking to allow concealed weapons on the state's college campuses in February 2014.
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    Sen. Kirk Watson debates the language in Sen. Brian Birdwell‘s bill of expanding concealed handguns on campus in the Senate chamber at the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday in Austin, Texas.
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Texas may soon allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses, thanks to a new bill that was given preliminary approval by the state Senate on Wednesday.

The “campus carry” bill was approved by a 20 to 11 vote along party lines. The Senate is expected to hold a final vote on Thursday, after which the bill will go to the GOP-controlled state House of Representatives. 

While gun-rights advocates and Republican senators support the bill, many student groups and school officials do not. But regardless of the opposition, Texas is far from the only state to consider legislation that would allow some form of campus carry. In fact, it is just one of a growing number.

“There is a trend. The gun lobby is picking up around a state a year,” says Andy Pelosi, director of the campaign Keep Guns off Campus.

“Texas is one of 15 states this year where bills have been introduced to allow arms on campus, so it’s been a busy year," Mr. Pelosi says. "Four states have defeated the bills, so there are 11 states left to work through this year. The biggest are Florida, Texas, and Nevada.”

At least 20 states allow some form of campus carry. However, only eight states have made it a right defined in state law, according to ArmedCampuses.org, a project of The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus and The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Currently, schools in Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin are required in some way to allow the carrying of firearms on their premises.

If the Texas campus carry bill passes, it would mandate that all public universities in Texas allow concealed carry on campus. Private schools, however, could still choose to ban them.

Under the current law, public universities can opt to allow guns on campus, but only Texas A&M University has chosen to do so. 

This is probably because most student groups and school officials in the state oppose allowing weapons on campus, observers say.

“On any college campus, there are parties. It’s never a good idea to have guns and alcohol with 20-year-olds who don’t know what they’re doing,” Jessica Connelo, a University of Texas student, told a local CBS-affiliate.

One of the most vocal opponents of the bill is retired Adm. William McRaven, the architect of the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, and the University of Texas’ chancellor.

"There is great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals age 21 or older, will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds," he wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

But supporters claim the bill will make universities safer by allowing students to protect themselves.

"Students have expressed concerns to me about their ability to protect themselves," the bill's author, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R) told the Associated Press. "It's time we don't imperil their safety."

If the bill passes, only those with official permits would be permitted to carry concealed weapons on campus. To receive a concealed handgun license, a Texan must be 21 or older, take a half-day training course, and pass criminal background and mental health checks.

Moreover, certain restrictions regarding how weapons can be carried and stored in dormitories and other areas will be included in the bill.

While Texas lawmakers have tried to pass similar measures three times since 2009, each attempt eventually failed to become law. This time, however, the Senate was able to approve the bill relatively quickly because a change to chamber rules hindered the ability of Democrats to slow divisive bills.

Previously, procedural rules in the state Senate required the approval of two-thirds of senators before any bill could come to the floor.

“The GOP now can bring any bill that clears committee directly to the Senate floor, bypassing Democratic delays and avoiding having to insert language favorable to the minority party to ensure disputed measures move forward,” reported Jim Vertuno and Will Weissert for the Associated Press.  

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