In Rare Unscripted Moment, Senate Halts Guns-on-Campus Bill

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The Texas Senate usually conducts business behind closed doors. What happens on the Senate floor typically has been figured out beforehand. It’s the professional wrestling approach to lawmaking.

But today—as the Upper Chamber debated one of the session’s most controversial bills—we saw some unscripted debate and a rare public tiff between two senators.

The bill in question was Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s proposal to allow concealed handguns in college campus buildings. The San Antonio Republican brought the so-called “guns on campus” bill to the floor thinking he had the 21 votes needed for passage. But he left disappointed.

During the debate, Brownsville Democrat Eddie Lucio—an apparent supporter of the bill—got into a dispute with Wentworth, a rare publc fight between senators. Lucio claimed he was promised that Wentworth wouldn’t bring the bill to the floor until Monday—so Lucio would have a chance over the weekend to make sure certain language in the bill was OK with educators in his district. Lucio asked Wentworth to pull the bill down in good faith and wait till Monday. Wentworth didn’t see it that way. He twice told Lucio, “Let me refresh your memory.” He claimed he’d already satisfied Lucio’s concerns and intended to press ahead. This appeared to anger Lucio and several Democrats.

Without Lucio’s support, the bill lacked the 21 votes needed.

That was partly because Bryan Republican Steve Ogden—who represents Texas A&M—also opposes the bill. Ogden gave an eloquent explanation for his opposition. He said the majority of students and faculty at Texas A&M strongly opposes the bill. (In fact, many college students angrily testified against the bill in committee.)

Wentworth has claimed that guns on campus will make colleges safer and that he was inspired to pass the bill after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. But Ogden pointed out that only 2 percent of all Texans carry concealed weapons, and the percentage is probably even lower on a college campus.

“So how can you argue that the campus would be safer when less than 1 percent of the people on campus have a concealed handgun?” Ogden said. If a deranged gunman did  attack a campus, it’s unlikely anyone with a gun would be in the vicinity. “The safety of the campus couldn’t be measurably improved.”  

Not long after, Wentworth learned that Lucio had pulled his support and the bill lacked the votes to pass. Wentworth decided to pull down the bill until Monday. The Senate adjourned until Monday at 1:30 p.m., when Wentworth will presumably give it another shot.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.