Dan Patrick's Texas Senate Is All That Stands In The Way Of Permitless Handguns In Texas

The Texas House approved a bill in April that would let all Texans 21 and up with clean records carry handguns without a license.
The Texas House approved a bill in April that would let all Texans 21 and up with clean records carry handguns without a license. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Until just a few days ago, it looked like the legislative push to allow Texans to carry handguns without permits was on life support after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said a Texas House-backed proposal to allow permitless carry didn’t have enough support in the Texas Senate to get a full-hearing, let alone be approved by a majority of Senators and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature.

But Patrick has now promised the bill will get a hearing before the state Senate this week as he claims to continue rallying support for it behind the scenes despite opposition from Texas law enforcement officials. Abbott, who initially refused to say whether he supported permitless carry or not, has now come out publicly in favor of doing away with the state’s handgun license requirements.

Permitless handgun carrying — called “constitutional carry” by supporters who believe gun-toting is guaranteed at the federal level by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment — is legal in 20 states, four of whom passed laws in 2021 to get rid of handgun license and training requirements.

A subset of Texas Republicans has been pushing for permitless carry since 2015, but previous bills that would legalize it never got through either chamber of the Texas Legislature. Past Republican Speakers of the Texas House and Patrick himself always pointed to how many police groups in Texas opposed gutting handgun permit requirements because it would make policing more difficult.

At an April gathering of state law enforcement officials opposed to permitless carry, Texas Municipal Police Association President Kevin Lawrence said that “The right to bear arms is not unfettered,” and that advocates for permitless carry “take one half of one amendment and ignore the rest of the Constitution.” At that same event, Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia claimed getting rid of handgun permit requirements “makes us less safe.”

Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo had repeatedly spoken out against permitless carry during his time in Houston. HPD did not respond to a request for comment from the Houston Press about whether the department or new Chief Troy Finner support permitless carry in Texas.

On April 16, the Texas House of Representatives passed state Rep. Matt Schaefer’s House Bill 1927, which would let Texans 21 and older who don’t have criminal records carry handguns without any kind of license or permit. The measure then stalled-out in Patrick’s Republican-led Senate. On April 19, Patrick claimed there wasn’t enough enthusiasm from his party’s senators to put it up for a vote, a signal that he wasn’t willing to strong-arm his fellow Republicans into getting behind the bill as he’s often done for past priorities of his.

“At this point, we don’t have the votes on the floor to pass it,” Patrick said at the time, but promised he’d “meet with law enforcement who oppose permitless carry” as well as the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America “to see if we can find a path that a majority of senators will vote to pass.”

In a press conference on April 20, Abbott refused to give a simple yes or no answer as to whether he thought permitless carry was a good idea, but he ended up publicly supporting the proposed law in an interview a week later, adding extra pressure on his fellow Republican Patrick to get the proposal moving.

“I support it,” Abbott told right-wing radio host Rick Roberts on April 27, “and I believe it should reach my desk, and we should have constitutional carry in Texas.”

After facing public pressure from gun advocates, Patrick created a special state Senate committee on “constitutional issues” stacked with vocal gun proponents who would decide whether or not to move the state House’s permitless carry bill forward. The new committee voted on Thursday in favor of advancing HB 1927 to the Senate floor.

In a Thursday radio interview with Dana Loesch, a national conservative commentator and former NRA spokeswoman, Patrick said he still hadn’t gotten enough Republicans on board to pass permitless carry. Bills only need a simple majority vote in the 31-member Senate to pass, but need 18 votes to be put up for debate, so Patrick would likely need to rally all 18 Senate Republicans to even get permitless carry a full hearing in the first place.

Patrick told Loesch that as of Thursday he had “12 votes, maybe 13” to support permitless carry, which he said was progress from a couple weeks ago, when he claimed “I had maybe six in favor, about six against and six unsure.”

“I’m still a few short,” Patrick said. He claimed to be optimistic about the bill’s chances, but still promised Loesch that he would make sure HB 1927 got a full Senate vote even if it might not ultimately pass.

“Usually if you don’t have the votes for a bill, you don’t bring up a bill that’s going to lose, but this is an important issue,” Patrick said.

“Usually if you don’t have the votes for a bill, you don’t bring up a bill that’s going to lose, but this is an important issue.” — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

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Republican state Sen. Charles Schwertner, who’s championed permitless carry in the Senate, has proposed several amendments to the House’s permitless carry bill he thinks would assuage the concerns of law enforcement officers and other opponents of the bill, which he intends to introduce once the bill gets its proper Senate hearing.

Those amendments would get rid of the House bill’s ban on letting police officers stop and question people who they saw visibly carrying a gun, and would increase the penalties for felons who get caught with handguns.

Another of Schwertner’s amendments would safeguard the ability for “gun-free zones” like polling places, hospitals and schools to forbid guns on their property. That sounds reasonable in theory but would likely be tricky to enforce in practice — after all, those same places have had a hard enough time enforcing something as simple as face mask use in the middle of a pandemic.

Patrick is well-known for being able to bend the state Senate to his will, and has historically been able to force through the bills he’s most hellbent on getting approved. So if permitless carry ultimately dies in Patrick’s Senate, it would likely mean that he’d either lost control of the chamber’s Republican majority, or that it wasn’t truly a priority of his after all.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards