When the Texas Republican Party met for its statewide convention last year, passing constitutional carry was listed as the No. 1 priority for the 2017 session — or an “emergency item,” in the words of State Representative Jonathan Stickland.
And so Stickland, a Republican from Bedford who has championed gun rights, did the honors and filed a constitutional carry bill in the Legislature, which, if passed, would allow Texans to carry guns whether or not they have a permit. It would make the now-required Concealed Handgun License classes and training optional. And it would make carrying a gun free of charge (current permit application fees are $140, or $70 for Texans below the poverty line).
“We don't think people should be charged to invoke their constitutional rights and be required to take a class,” Stickland said. “If we tried to do that with the First Amendment, people would be going insane over it. And I think there are a lot of folks that are in regards to this. Any time you put rules and regulations on anyone, it's the good guys you're hurting. Because criminals, they don't obey the laws anyway.”
Under Stickland's bill, all of the requirements for purchasing and registering guns would remain. That means people who fail a background check, including ex-cons, people with serious mental health issues and 14-year-olds, would still not be allowed to own and carry a gun.
Still, the bill is bound to rattle a lot of people from either party who are wary of the idea that anyone should be allowed to carry a gun without being required to learn how to handle it first — concerns that Stickland wrote off as unfounded. Stickland said most responsible gun owners would take the initiative themselves to learn how to use the gun. Plus, he said, the CHL training class isn't as necessary for gun carriers as people may think. (The Houston Press attended one last year. We also thought it was too easy.)
“The CHL class, most people think of that as some kind of in-depth training — it's not. I think it gives a false sense of security to a lot of people,” he said. “Most people I know who carry regularly do not feel that it is adequate enough training, that it's more of a joke in the process than anything educational.”
(That's largely because of a bill passed in 2013 that dramatically reduced CHL training requirements from ten hours to four hours — a bill that Stickland voted for. But we digress.)
Asked why, then, lawmakers don't focus on improving the gun-handling training, Stickland said he believes that making CHL classes optional will take care of that naturally. He said that, since the training will no longer be required, the instructors will likely lose business and need to find a way to offer higher-quality classes or face closure, and only the best ones will keep their doors open. “The free market over time will work itself out,” he said.
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Should Stickland's bill make headway, he'll likely have a hard time convincing law enforcement to support it. Police groups and leaders came out against open carry last session, primarily over concerns that, in times of crisis, open carry could cause law enforcement to confuse the real criminals with the gun-toting good guys, like what happened after the Dallas police ambush last year. Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas already told the Texas Tribune it would fight constitutional carry. And while the Houston Police Officers' Union has yet to take an official stance, President Ray Hunt said he would never support a bill stripping training and permitting requirements from those who want to carry a gun — although he does support making that permit free. (There is another bill specifically intended to do that, Senate Bill 16).
Stickland said that anyone fearing that Texas will turn into the “wild, wild west” with the passage of constitutional carry needs to rethink, adding that many people feared the same would happen after open carry passed, and alas, nothing really did. In fact, he says he has not even witnessed a single person openly carrying in public since the bill passed. “Most gun owners don't want to brandish their weapon or have anyone know what their tactical situation is,” he said. “So I think a lot of those fears are unfounded.”
Asked why, then, if many people don't really even want to openly carry, he and other Republican lawmakers consider this bill a foremost priority and an emergency item, Stickland simply said it's because Texas is behind other states — and also is tired of paying for permits.
“For Texans, there's an element of, we're kind of mad we'll be the 11th state to pass it,” he said. “Usually we like to lead on these issues, and in this case we're not. It's time to put Texas at the front again.”