AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Legislature has approved allowing license holders to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses - but included a caveat that lets college presidents designate "gun-free zones."
The House voted 98-47 on Sunday to approve the measure, sending it to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed into law.
The so-called "campus carry" bill was a priority for gun rights activists, even though many top universities statewide opposed it.
Both chambers previously passed their own versions of the bill, and a weekend agreement between House and Senate negotiators set up final approval.
Opponents won the concession of gun-free zones, though college presidents won't be able to ban handguns on entire campuses.
In order to obtain a concealed-carry license, though, Texans must be 21, meaning many college students won't qualify.
Campus carry has been bitterly fought over for years in the second-most populous state and got a big boost this year from the Legislature's large, tea party-influenced Republican majority. Abbott has pledged to sign any bill that expands gun rights in his first session.
At least 20 states allow some form of campus carry, but only a handful make it a defined right in state law, as the Texas bill would.
Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, say campus carry is critical for student and teacher self-defense in case of a campus shooter or assaults.
"Campuses are not crime-free zones," said Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, who sponsored the bill in the House.
The bill has faced fierce opposition from gun control advocates and influential law enforcement and higher education officials, most notably the University of Texas System and Chancellor William McRaven, the former Navy SEAL who spearheaded the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
McRaven has told lawmakers that allowing concealed weapons could make campuses "less safe," intimidate students and teachers and stifle free speech.
In an earlier letter to lawmakers, McRaven said mental health professionals worry the mixture of guns and the emotional and psychological stresses on students, many of whom are away from home for the first time, could lead to more suicides and accidental shootings.
In a statement after the measure's final approval noted by CBS Dallas station KTVT-TV, McRaven said, "While it is not what we had hoped for, I respect the Legislature's decision. ... It is helpful that the bill was amended to allow our campus presidents to consult with students, faculty and staff to develop rules and regulations that will govern the carrying of concealed handguns on campuses. I look forward to working with our presidents as they craft these policies and bring them to our Board of Regents for review."