Two Texas gun bills advance to state Senate floor

Texas State Troopers watch over a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, on Jan. 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas.
Texas State Troopers watch over a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, on Jan. 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas.

A Texas Senate committee this week passed two bills that would permit the open carry of handguns in the state and allow firearms on college campuses, as a different southern community continues to mourn three Muslim individuals who were fatally shot near the campus of the University of North Carolina on Tuesday.

"If you guys do decide to go against [these gun bills], I will walk until my feet bleed to make sure that you never are an elected official again."'

The open carry bill would permit licensed Texans to openly carry holstered handguns. Residents of the Lone Star State currently can conceal carry handguns. Laws regarding the open carry of handguns vary by state. Texas, for instance, currently prohibits people from openly carrying handguns in public places, but allows residents to possess long guns with the proper licenses.

The bill regarding campus carry would allow students, faculty, and staff with concealed handgun licenses to bring their firearms into buildings on college and university campuses. A similar bill was approved by a Republican-led House committee last month in Florida, just two months after a shooter injured three people at a Florida State University library.

RELATED: Florida House committee approves bill to allow guns at college

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Thursday voted in favor of the two gun bills, which passed on a 7-2 party-line vote and will be sent to the full Senate despite opposing advice from Democratic leaders, law enforcement authorities, and university presidents, The Dallas Morning News reported. It is unclear how the House will view the bills. But if both measures pass, the open carry bill won't be allowed on academic premises.

The Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was among the pro-reform groups and shooting survivors to testify against the bills at the Senate committee's eight-hour public hearing on Thursday. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who strongly supports both measures, scheduled them for the first committee hearing during this legislative session.

“Even as a survivor of the worst mass shooting in American history, I can tell you forcing universities and college campuses to allow guns on campus is wrong — colleges and universities are and should remain safe places with low levels of violence,” Colin Goddard, a Virginia Tech shooting survivor, said at the hearing.

Members of Moms Demand Action have been working since the fall of 2013 to persuade certain businesses to change their policies to prohibit customers from carrying guns onto public premises.

Pro-gun activists have staged several "open carry" events at company locations to reassert their Second Amendment rights. The armed individuals were met multiple times with criticism, asked by employees to leave the premises. Kory Watkins, leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, posted a video to his Facebook page last week that threatened Texas legislators to give him open carry rights. At the Senate hearing on Thursday, he said open carry is his “God-given right."

"If you guys do decide to go against this, I will walk until my feet bleed to make sure that you never are an elected official again," Watkins said at the hearing.

The alleged shooter in the fatal shooting at UNC on Tuesday reportedly was a concealed-carry permit holder. And the suspected gunman who fatally shot Dr. Michael Davidson at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston last month also was a concealed handgun permit holder.

This week on the federal level, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas introduced to the Senate a bill that would require all states to recognize permits from any other state with weaker firearms safety laws. Under the measure, states that use discretion in giving out concealed carry permits would be forced to accept the standards of states with reprehensibly low standards, like Florida, which has historically weak gun laws. Cornyn's bill complements a similar measure in the House recently brought forth by Republican Rep. Richard Nugent of Florida. 

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called the bill "evil and dangerous."

"It is basically a proposal promoted by the gun lobby and its lap dog politicians," he added, “to force every state to allow just about anyone to carry a loaded, hidden gun in public."