Texas took a huge step toward allowing concealed handguns in college classrooms late Tuesday, with House lawmakers giving a preliminary nod to a so-called "campus carry" measure, just beating a midnight deadline.
The legislation is one of two major gun rights bills of the session and had appeared destined to fail, with Democrats lining up more than 100 amendments in an effort to kill it.
The Democrats abruptly dropped the amendments 25 minutes before the deadline, and the chamber's large Republican majority forced a vote, approving the measure 101-47.
"If Republicans wanted to celebrate Christmas in April, they have the votes," said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.
The vote came at about the same time the Senate's Republican majority dropped a measure that would have protected child welfare agencies that block gays and same-sex couples from adopting children on religious grounds from lawsuits.
Campus carry has been the source of bitter fighting over the years in the second-most populous state but got a big boost this year from the Legislature's large, tea party-influenced Republican majority. Governor Abbott has vowed to sign any bill that expands gun rights in his first session.
While 20 states allow some form of campus carry, only a handful make it a defined right in state law, as the Texas bill would.
Licensed concealed carry has been legal in Texas since 1995 and has about 850,000 license holders, and has seen a spike in permits in recent years.
Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, say campus carry is vital for student and teacher self-defense against campus shooters or other attackers on school grounds.
"Campuses are not crime-free zones," said Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, who sponsored the House bill.
Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp told lawmakers that having licensed weapons on campus "does not raise safety concerns" for him.