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Concealed handgun measure triggers fight among Texas lawmakers

A move to give lawmakers the right to carry handguns anywhere they wish sparked an angry debate among Republicans in the Texas House on Thursday, with conservatives lambasting their colleagues for giving themselves special privileges.

The shouting match erupted over whether lawmakers should include themselves in a draft law originally intended to only give special privileges to prosecuting attorneys and judges. Regular concealed handgun license holders cannot take their guns into hospitals, churches, bars or onto private property that bans them.

When the bill came up in the Texas Senate, lawmakers added themselves to those exempted from the restrictions and sent it back to the House for final passage. Conservative Republicans became enraged.

"My constituents are sick and tired of politicians passing laws that exempt themselves from following the law. We are putting ourselves on an un-level playing field. Do you not know a moral problem with that?" Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, shouted at the House chamber.

The debate devolved into chaos as lawmakers moaned and other yelled over each other, prompting Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, to pound the gavel with increasing emphasis and shouting for order. The bill was then sent to a conference committee for further discussion.

Other Republicans came to the bill's defense, insisting that they had tried to get the restriction lifted so that all residents with concealed handgun licenses could take their guns anywhere, but that those measures had failed. Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, invoked the shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during a public event in Arizona, to justify why lawmakers needed the special privilege.

But tea-party affiliated Republicans said lawmakers should not give themselves something their constituents do not have.

"Right now the public has a bad perception of elected officials, and it is laws like this that give them that because we are putting ourselves above them," Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, said.

Sheets and Stickland said the Legislature should drop the restrictions for all license holders. Senate and House negotiators will now look at the bill again and debate whether to remove lawmakers from it.