By Mike Ward | Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 07:55 AM
It started with a bill to allow Texans to bring their guns to work, though locked in their cars.
Then came a measure to let pistol-packers off the hook if they brought a gun into a bar, usually a criminal no-no, if proper signs weren’t posted.
On Monday, the a House committee heard testimony about why it is a good idea to allow concealed-weapons on college campuses, a controversial step that brought out opponents and supporters in large numbers.
“Is this the legislative session of guns?” asked Braden Campbell, 19, a University of Texas sophomore who showed up in the standing-room-only crowd to protest allowing guns on campuses. “Does everybody in Texas have to be able to carry a gun everywhere they go?”
As far as campuses go, at least half of the 150-member House thinks so. They have signed on as co-sponsors of the campus-carry measure by state Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland.
While concealed-weapons bills have always showed up on legislative agendas every two years in Texas, where hunting and the right to bear arms are as much an ingrained part of the Lone Star psyche as clam bakes and fishing are to coastal New Englanders, both supporters and opponents agree this year seems to be a more active gun year.
And most of the measures seem to be passing quite handily, despite opposition.
Both sides say several things are behind the flurry: The increasing numbers of Texans who carry concealed weapons with state permits are flexing their political muscle, a growing awareness about self-protection, even the collapsed economy that has left many folks uneasy.
Supporters of the campus-carry measure would protect the rights of those licensed to carry concealed weapons, and help prevent another massacre like the one at Virginia Tech University two years ago that left 32 dead and another last year at Northern Illinois University.
Opponents say if guns are allowed on campuses, students and faculty wil live in fear, not knowing who might pull a pistol over a poor grade or a druken dorm argument.
On Monday night, John Woods, a former Virginia Tech student whose girlfriend and several other people he knew were gunned down almost two years ago in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, implored the House Public Safety Committee not to allow more guns on campuses.
“It won’t solve anything,” he said. “The idea that somebody could stop a school shooting is impossible. It’s reactive, not preventative.”
College and university officials are cool to the idea, as well. Almost without exception, most now prohibit weapons on their campuses — though they admit that enforcement efforts against some students with state concealed-weapons permits may have helped spark the proposed change in law.
On the other side are supporters like Damon Burns, a Texas State University student who favors the change.
“Those people with a concealed-carry permit should not have to take off their weapon just because they walk onto a campus,” he said. “This proposal won’t allow everyone to bring a gun onto school property, just those who are properly trained and licensed — and most responsible.”
Jake Simmons, an Austin contractor, said he attended Monday’s hearing not just because he opposes the campus-carry proposal, but because he is concerned that Texas is “becoming a gun society.”
“There is a strange obsession with guns here at the Capitol,” he said. “And it’s hard for anyone to vote against these laws, even if they’re the worst idea ever, because you come off looking like a nancy-boy politically.
“What we’re slowly doing is becoming a gun nation.”
Even so, committee members indicated they will approve Driver’s bill next week and send it to the House floor for what is expected to be a lively debate. Approval is expected.
Meanwhile, a similar bill is pending in the Senate, where a committee earlier approved two other pro-gun bills.
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