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Government/Politics

Hundreds Show Up At State Capitol To Share Testimony About Campus And Open Carry Gun Bills

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Members of a Texas senate committee heard public testimony on two controversial gun bills and despite some security concerns and an online threat, the mood inside the hearing room remained peaceful.

Dozens stood in line outside the Senate’s State Affairs Committee in the early morning hours, waiting to sign up to speak to lawmakers on bills that would allow gun owners with concealed carry license to bring their guns into college classrooms or keep their weapons openly holstered in public.

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Granbury Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell, author of campus carry bill SB 11

But Granbury Republican State Sen. Brian Birdwell, the man behind SB11, the campus carry bill, said his bill would not work in conjunction with Wichita Falls Sen. Craig Estes’ SB 17 open carry proposal.

“My purpose in my bill is to remain concealed. So in this case, should both my bill and Sen. Estes’ bill pass, it would mean that concealed handgun licensees on a college campus must remain concealed,” said Birdwell.

Before hearing public testimony, legislators from both sides of the gun issue read aloud letters from the UT System Chancellor, Admiral William McRaven (USN, retd.), who opposes the campus carry bill, and the Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, who supports the proposal.

Those in law enforcement seemed equally divided on the subject; some called the open carry and campus carry bill an added resource, others, like Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, said the bills represented an unfunded mandate for colleges and police departments because of the added cost of extra security and increased 911 calls related to guns.

Acevedo said he did not believe there was public support for a licensed open carry bill. “I talk to CHL holders all the time and I ask them, ‘what do you think of open carry?’ They don’t support it. It’s a very small yet vocal community that supports it, and I think we are mistaken when we assume noise equates support,” said Acevedo.

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Wichita Falls Republican Sen. Craig Estes, author of licensed open carry bill, SB 17

Meanwhile, Estes did not anticipate any major changes related to his licensed open carry bill. He said he just wanted to extend rights in Texas to what gun owners have in other states. “I’m kind of asking this legislative body to boldly go where 46 other states have already gone. The testimony from all these other states has been that it’s been fairly uneventful,” Estes said cheerfully.

Legislative members plan to vote both bills out of committee by Thursday night, so that they can be debated before the full senate. This, however, might not happen without Democrats on the committee attempting to alter the bills with a series of amendments.