AUSTIN (AP) — The mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school has sparked a federal effort to crack down on firearms. But in the Lone Star State — where packing heat is as much a part of a frontier image as the Alamo — lawmakers are sticking to their guns.
From gun rights, to guns in schools to telling the feds to keep their hands off Texans’ weapons, there’s no shortage of support in the state Capitol for the right to bear arms.
Some issues are new: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wants state-paid specials weapons and tactics training for school teachers. Others are old: Some bills would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into college classrooms.
“And that’s a good thing,” said state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who as a state representative wrote the state’s concealed handgun law in 1995. “In Texas, we keep moving in the direction of liberty instead of regulation.”
That liberty is exercised every day in the Capitol, where concealed handgun license holders are allowed to bypass metal detectors. Some lawmakers appear determined to broaden Texans’ gun rights amid a push by the Obama administration to curb access to certain kinds of firearms.
Jumping to the forefront this session is the debate over school safety and whether having teachers and administrators carry concealed handguns guns to class will protect students from a rampaging shooter like one who killed 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December.
Texas law allows school districts to let some teachers and staff have concealed weapons in class, but only a few rural districts are known to use that option. At a special Senate hearing on school safety last week, officials from those districts said gun-toting teachers provide a critical line of defense for students between the time the shooting starts and police arrive.
“Now, we’re able to protect our children, to fill that gap until the police get there,” said Don Dunn, Don Dunn of Van Independent School District.
But the hearing also exposed a division between rural and urban school districts over arming teachers. Three small districts that allow teachers to carry weapons to class don’t have their own police forces. Dallas and Austin and dozens of larger school districts do, and officials from those districts told lawmakers they want to leave school security to professional law enforcement.
The Texas State Teachers Association has opposed pushing more teachers into carrying weapons. Parent groups seem nervous about the idea as well.
“No parent wants their child in on an experiment with deadly weapons,” said Barbara Beto, legislative action chair for the Texas PTA.
The proposal for more guns echoes the National Rifle Association’s call for an armed guard in every school. Meanwhile, New York passed a law that reduces the maximum legal magazine size from 10 bullets to seven and further restricts assault weapons. Connecticut lawmakers are considering tighter control on guns following the Connecticut massacre.
President Obama earlier this month unveiled plans to press for universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. That prompted a rapid-fire response from Texas.
Gov. Rick Perry, who carries a concealed handgun and once shot a coyote while jogging, said prayer, not gun control, would save lives. First-term state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, organized a gun-rights rally that drew hundreds of gun-toting demonstrators to the steps of the state Capitol. A simultaneous gun control rally on the opposite side of the building drew only a few dozen.
Toth has introduced a bill seeking to ban statewide any federal action limiting firearms. The bill would allow Texas police to arrest federal law enforcement officers attempting to enforce any federal gun or ammunition bans in the Texas, although such a measure would violate the U.S. Constitution.
And on Thursday, Dewhurst taunted Obama in a message on Twitter: “To (hash)Obama & his elitist, liberal allies, I say what Texans have said for generations: (hash)ComeandTake It!”
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