By Clay Robinson
Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that Texans who are legally licensed should be able to carry their concealed handguns anywhere, including churches, bars, courthouses and college campuses.
"I think it makes sense for Texans to be able to protect themselves from deranged individuals, whether they're in church, or whether on a college campus or wherever they are," he said.
"The idea that you're going to exempt them from a particular place is nonsense to me."
Perry commented to reporters after he and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt had met privately with educators, mental health experts and law enforcement officials to discuss the recent shootings at Virginia Tech University. Leavitt and other Cabinet officials are traveling around the country to discuss school and community safety practices in preparation for a report to President Bush.
The governor's remarks aren't likely to result in widespread changes in Texas gun laws, particularly this late in a legislative session that must adjourn by May 28.
But the comments elicited sharp responses, and Perry's stance puts him at odds with a major political ally, the Texas Association of Business, over the right of employers to continue to ban firearms from their property.
"We're not in the Wild West anymore," Tommie Garza of Houston, executive director of Texans for Gun Safety, said of the governor's idea. "It doesn't seem like the sensible thing to do."
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who sponsored the concealed handgun law as a state senator in 1995, said he agreed with Perry that "we need more guns in schools in the hands of responsible people."
But he drew the line at allowing guns in bars. "People get drunk there, and their aim is not as good," he said.
Current law prohibits the carrying of firearms, even by handgun licensees, into bars, schools, most areas of college campuses and courthouses. Churches can ban them, and governmental bodies can prohibit licensees from carrying pistols into public meetings.
Companies also can prohibit their employees from carrying weapons onto their property. The Senate has approved a bill to allow handgun licensees to leave their weapons in their cars on company parking lots, but the TAB and many employers are trying to kill that legislation in the House.
Asked about carrying a pistol into a bar, Perry said, "I think that a person ought to be able to carry that weapon if they are legally licensed to."
The governor responded less clearly when asked whether Texas should submit mental health information on some individuals to a national database used for background checks.
Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter who killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech on April 16, had purchased two handguns, despite having been declared mentally ill.
Senate Bill 1755 by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, which hasn't yet been heard by a Senate committee, would cover people who have received court-ordered inpatient mental health services or who have been declared mentally incapacitated. But it wouldn't apply to people like Cho, who was a mental health outpatient.
There are privacy requirements under federal law that must be considered, Perry said.