After weeks of backroom negotiations and plenty of pressure from gun fans, both the Texas House and Senate have voted to pass a new law that would completely gut the state’s requirements for Texas residents to get licenses and firearm safety training before they can lawfully carry their pistols in public.
House Bill 1927, called the “constitutional carry” bill by its author Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer, has now been sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature, the final step before the bill is etched into state law. There’s no suspense as to whether or not Abbott will sign HB 1927 — Abbott urged state lawmakers via Twitter Friday to “get it to my desk for signing,” and told conservative radio host Rick Roberts back in April that Texas “should have constitutional carry.”
HB 1927 isn’t the only gun bill waiting for Abbott’s signature; the Texas House in April approved House Bill 2622 which would make Texas a so-called Second Amendment “sanctuary state” by pulling state funding from local governments who attempt to enforce any new federal gun laws that the U.S. Congress might pass while President Joe Biden’s is in office. The state Senate approved HB 2622 on Monday afternoon.
The Texas House originally passed its version of HB 1927, the permitless handgun bill, back in April. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick then claimed there weren’t enough votes for the bill to pass through his Senate given law enforcement groups’ opposition to cutting the handgun license requirement. But Patrick, after feeling the pressure from Second Amendment advocates, got the bill through the state Senate with the help of a new committee packed with gun-advocates.
State senators also added a few changes to the House bill specifically focused on gaining law enforcement support, an effort led by Republican state Sen. Charles Schwertner. Once the state Senate approved its version of the bill, both chambers tapped a handful of members to lead a private “conference committee” designed to hammer-out the differences between the House and Senate versions and settle on the final version of the bill, which the House approved just minutes before midnight on Sunday and the Senate rubber-stamped Monday evening.
In an email to supporters Saturday before the final House and Senate votes, Patrick celebrated the conference committee’s work to approve the compromise-version of the permitless handgun bill.
“HB 1927 is a historic bill and a national model,” Patrick wrote. “It includes the thinking of national gun rights advocates and many in Texas law enforcement,” he claimed, “and affirms our commitment to protect the rights of gun owners and the safety of those in law enforcement.”
In his own statement, Mike Collier, the Democrat who will once again challenge Patrick for the lieutenant governor job in 2022, blasted state Republicans for pushing to gut handgun permit requirements over other priorities. “These aren’t Texas values, they aren’t American values, and they certainly aren’t what people across Texas signed up for,” Collier wrote Monday.
“Rather than focus on the very real issues facing Texans — like our failing energy grid, public education, and healthcare— Dan Patrick has led the Texas legislature in tirelessly working to ensure that criminals, domestic terrorists, and other bad actors can now legally carry dangerous weapons in our state,” Collier continued.
The final version of HB 1927 included several of the Senate’s tweaks that were based on requests from Texas police, like giving cops the right to temporarily disarm suspected criminals, beefing up the penalties for felons caught with guns and letting police interrogate folks if they’re suspected of carrying a gun unlawfully.
Still, the Texas Municipal Police Association isn’t thrilled that Texans will no longer be required to get licenses and take firearm safety training classes to carry handguns in public once the law goes into effect as expected.
Kevin Lawrence, the group’s executive director, said that while those Senate amendments made HB 1927 “a much more palatable bill,” he’s still concerned the law will make law enforcement “more dangerous.”
“We’re still concerned,” Lawrence said. “It’s going to make the job of our officers more difficult. But let’s face it, the job of being a cop is difficult to start with, and our officers will continue to go out there and do their best.”
Texas will become the 21st and by far the largest state to get rid of handgun permit requirements once the bill is signed, but recent polling suggests most Texans apparently aren’t too eager to join that list.
According to an April poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, 59 percent of Texas voters said they believed adults shouldn’t be allowed to carry handguns in public without licenses. Only 34 percent thought permitless handgun laws were a good idea, while 6 percent said they had no opinion.
Gun law reform advocate Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, argued Tuesday that HB 1927 will make it impossible to tell if a handgun-toting Texan is a law-abiding citizen or a felon carrying a firearm against the law.
“How do you know looking at a person with a gun in the holster whether you have any of these prohibiting factors? You don’t know. And that’s kind of what makes it unsafe in general,” she said.
Switzer fears the bill will lead to more guns in Texas communities, which she worries will in turn lead to more shootings. “We always go back to the research and the data. And the data shows clearly, more guns [equals] more crime, so that should worry every Texan,” Switzer said.
Gun owner groups like the Texas State Rifle Association, swear Switzer’s concerns are unfounded. Andi Turner, the Texas State Rifle Association’s legislative director, told the Houston Press her organization believes “A felon is going to do what a felon is going to do no matter what laws you make.”
Under HB 1927, private businesses, churches, schools and polling places would still be allowed to forbid people from carrying guns on their premises. But the bill’s definition of the word “premises'' is quite narrow: “Premises,” the bill reads, “means a building or a portion of a building. The term does not include any public or private driveway, street, sidewalk or walkway, parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area.”
That careful wording appears to open the door for Texans to still bring their unlicensed handguns with them to those establishments, as long as they leave them in their car before heading inside.
Turner also downplayed the idea that more Texans will go out and purchase handguns to then carry out in public if and when Texas loses its handgun license requirement.
“The guy down the street who has no interest in guns is not going to suddenly develop an interest in guns,” Turner argued. She then likened handguns to potentially deadly power tools that the state doesn’t require licenses to use, and said Texans should be trusted to do their own research on how to safely use both.
“It’s a dangerous weapon,” Turner said of a handgun. “[But] so is a chainsaw. You don’t go to the store, buy a chainsaw, come home, take it out of the box and pull the cord if you have never experienced anything [like that].”
Houston Democrat state Sen. John Whitmire said on the Senate floor that “there are a large number of families on both sides of the aisle who are literally afraid” of Texas getting rid of its handgun license requirements. Switzer said she’s heard similar talk from Texas Gun Sense supporters fearful about staying in Texas after September 1, when HB 1927 would go into effect if signed. “I heard somebody today say that,” Switzer said. “[She] was estimating in her head ‘Well, August is when my lease runs out…’”
Lawrence said he and the Texas police officers he represents hope that Texans who want to go out and buy a handgun in a post-HB 1927 world will act as responsibly as gun advocates trust they will, even once there’s no state requirement or penalty for not being licensed and trained on proper gun use.
“We encourage people, if you’re going to carry a gun, go through the process,” Lawrence said. “Do the training, do the practicing. Learn retention skills, learn the differences between the holsters. Make it as safe as possible, make sure that you are as efficient as possible in how to use that firearm.”
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