AUSTIN - Already a gun-friendly state, Texas is taking steps to be even cozier for concealed handgun license holders.
Reduced training requirements for new applicants and easier options for renewal for more than 580,000 current license holders are among more than 1,000 new laws passed by the Legislature this year, many of which take effect on Sunday.
Guns -- where, when and how Texans would have the right to carry them -- was a session-long point of debate for lawmakers.
Texas passed its concealed handgun license law in 1995, and since then has required applicants to undergo 10 to 15 hours training minimum. That standard included classroom and shooting range instruction. But instructors said they really don't need that much time, and lawmakers cut the training requirements in half.
Starting Sunday, applicants for a concealed handgun license will be required to take four to six hours of classroom instruction before heading to the shooting range.
That's plenty of time according to Mike Cox, a concealed handgun license instructor in Dripping Springs near Austin. His class instruction lasts about five hours, and he will now have the flexibility to spend as little or as much time as needed on the range, depending on the experience of the applicant. A recent class made up of soldiers from Fort Hood needed only about 15 minutes on the range, Cox said.
"If I had a granny recently widowed living at home and frightened, we're going to take a little bit longer with her," Cox said.
Texas has about 3,000 licensed concealed handgun instructors, according to the Department of Public Safety. Cox said he's confident that they will be diligent in providing applicants the range instruction they need to be proficient and responsible with their weapon.
Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) said she introduced the bill hoping that reducing the number of training hours would encourage more people to apply for concealed handgun licenses.
Other changes taking effect Sunday will allow license holders to renew online and provide easier access to obtaining fingerprints for applications. Also, license holders will be certified to carry a revolver or semi-automatic pistol, regardless of what type of gun they used in class.
License holders also will be allowed to keep weapons in their car if they drive on a college campus, but campus buildings still remain among the places off-limits to concealed handguns.
Law enforcement officers will be allowed to sell some guns they seize to licensed firearms dealers as a means of recovering the cost of investigations. However, some police departments in large metro areas have said they don't plan to sell the weapons.
Under another law, passed in response to the fatal December shootings at a Connecticut elementary school, public and charter schools in Texas will be allowed to designate an employee as a school marshal who can carry a weapon on campus. The law allows one armed marshal on campus for every 400 students who must undergo 80 hours of training, though marshals' identities are not subject to public records law.
Although many larger school districts employ their own police forces, many smaller districts cannot afford to do so. Several small, rural districts told lawmakers they need marshals to protect students because police response might be too slow in a shooting incident.
"Law enforcement officers cannot be everywhere at all times," Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) said when he first proposed the measure. "In an active shooter situation, we need an option for reducing initial response times from minutes to seconds."
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