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NRA celebrates 'gun day' as Texas passes pro-gun legislation

The Texas House approved a series of bills Saturday, including one that gives university students the right to bring guns into the classroom, at a time when the debate over gun ownership is dominant on the US political radar.

It was a great day for members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), who celebrated ‘gun day’ in Texas amid a volley of House votes in favor of softening gun laws.

Despite already liberal gun laws, the Republican-dominated house passed legislation permitting university students to carry handguns in the classroom, placing armed marshals in public schools and exempting the state from any future federal restrictions on assault rifles, high-capacity magazines or universal background checks, AP reported.

The 12 approved bills, most of which were passed by voice votes, came as thousands of members of the NRA assembled for the group's annual convention in Houston.   

Now the bills head to the Senate, where a more difficult debate awaits gun enthusiasts.

Since the Sandy Hook shootings, which left 26 people dead, 20 of them children, the gun debate has roared to the center of the American political spectrum. Democrats generally believe that harsh restrictions should be placed on gun ownership, while right-leaning voters hold firm to the Second Amendment, which enshrines the right to bear arms as one of the defining hallmarks of citizenship.

The Democrats managed to reject just one of the bills, which would have allowed the use of a concealed handgun license to serve as valid proof of personal identification. Gun-rights activists thought the bill fair since such licenses demand a background check that's not necessary to get drivers’ licenses.

The toughest debate in the day came over an initiative to allow students over 21 who already have concealed weapons permits to bring their handguns into the classrooms. The issue was a lightning rod of tension during the last legislative session in 2011, but ultimately failed. This time around, the Republicans had the momentum on their side.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, reminded lawmakers: "College campuses are not crime-free zones."

The measure would allow institutions of higher learning to opt out of the new rules.

The Texas House also enthusiastically approved a bill, introduced by first-term, Tea Party Republican Rep. Steve Toth, which promises to bring tensions between the federal and state government to the boiling point if cleared.

The bill would shoot down within state borders any federal laws banning assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, or expansion of background checks for firearms owners.

"There are 27 amendments in the Constitution but only one says `shall not be infringed,"' Toth said. "The Second Amendment is the amendment that keeps the people free."

Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, took to Twitter to slam his Republican colleagues: "In case your head is too thick to understand: State law will not trump federal law."

Another bill that passed would allow marshals in the state of Texas to keep guns locked up on campus, but have access to them in the case of an emergency.

A separate measure that passed 136-0 decreased the concealed handgun license fee for police officers, military veterans, national and state militia members, although the legislation will cost the state up to $2 million in lost revenues.