Is Open Carry Just Too Scary for Cops? (UPDATED)

Well, nobody saw that coming. While the Texas House provided smooth sailing for the contentious “campus carry” bill to continue its journey back to the *Senate, its spiritual twin “open carry” had a much more difficult time. In fact, some gun rights advocates worry it may be doomed.

Campus carry would allow for licensed students (who must be over the age of 21) to pack heat while hitting the books. Late last night, after Democrats tried to sink the bill with more than 100 amendments, the opposition abruptly withdrew their time-stalling tactics and the bill passed third reading with some significant amendments. This afternoon, it was quietly approved by the House in a 102-44 vote. As of March, only seven states had similar laws applying to college campuses, though Texas is one of 11 state legislatures taking up the cause this year.

In contrast, Texas is apparently one of only six states to explicitly prohibit licensed gun owners from openly carrying a handgun in public (you can already openly carry a long gun, but you Alamo re-enactment zealots probably already knew that). House Bill 910 would change those regulations to allow any licensed individual to carry a handgun openly wherever it was permitted (individual businesses and organizations would still be allowed to prohibit open-carrying).

Thus I, like a lot of other Lege watchers, brazenly predicted last week that HB 910 “will [likely] sail through the rest of its legislative journey.” Yeah, it sailed, alright … like a nice little Memorial Day yachting jaunt in Houston. The stormy weather in this case was Dallas Republican state Sen. Don Huffines’ amendment to prohibit law enforcement from making “an investigatory stop … to inquire whether a person possesses a handgun license solely because the person is carrying a partially or wholly visibly handgun …”

That language was very similar to an amendment proposed by Houston Democrat state Rep. Harold Dutton, which died in committee before the House could debate it on the floor. So, obviously the House had to debate the resurrected Huffines version, at length, because democracy.

It’s also just an interesting question, one that split Dutton and state Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), something that, in Turner’s words, occurs “very, very seldom.” For the majority of law enforcement in the state (including GOP state Representatives Phil King of Weatherford and Allen Fletcher of Houston, both former law enforcement officers), the amendment could infringe upon police’s ability to check out the activities of, going with King’s examples, a guy flashing a pistol outside a daycare, or armed Aryan Brotherhood marchers.

But for Dutton, as well as strange bedfellows like state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), not explicitly prohibiting such stops could lead to police harassment. In a barn-burning speech, Dutton, who represents a district that is almost 80 percent Black and Latino, worried about how often law enforcement would politely question white arms bearers versus hauling carriers of color off to jail immediately. To Stickland, the bill’s original co-author state Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) and other Tea Partiers, such questioning would just lead to more instances in which the white man could be tread upon by big government.

Despite laments from Rinaldi and the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) who feared any delay may stall open carry permanently, the House decided to take more time parsing such intriguing points in a conference committee. Though Open Carry sans amendment likely would have “sailed,” the committee will dock it for now, and its future for this session seems uncertain as even if it makes it out of conference committee, members of the Senate opposing HB 910 could run down the clock before it gets a vote. While some gun rights advocates think a delay could be enough for Abbott to call a special session—the guv is a big supporter of open carry—the rest of the public, which has shown only tepid support, may disagree.

*Update 3:00 p.m 5/28.: In yet another unexpected move, on Thursday state Senators moved not to concur with changes made to campus carry in the House earlier this week. At issue was a change requiring both public and private universities comply with the campus carry requirements. The bill's author, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, said that made him uneasy as "I am duty-bound to protect Second Amendment rights parallel to private property rights." The bill now heads to a conference committee and must be rectified and voted upon before the June 1 deadline.

*Update 8:30 a.m. 5/29: House lawmakers stripped the so-called “cop stop” language from the open carry bill late Thursday. That provision, which would have barred cops from asking open-carriers to show their permits, brought out staunch opposition from law enforcement circles and threatened to tank one of Republicans' top priorities this session. The Texas Tribune now reports that open carry is likely to pass both chambers and head to Gov. Abbott's desk before the session wraps on Sunday.

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