Texas Capitol will be a battleground for gun legislation

Posted Saturday, May. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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If Saturday’s session of the Texas Legislature were a 1950s Western movie, it might easily be titled Showdown: Gun Fight at the Texas Capitol.

With more than a dozen gun-related bills on the House agenda, including one allowing the right to carry firearms on college campuses, lawmakers will be wrangling over a stampede of legislation directed at protecting Texans’ Second Amendment rights while corralling an over-reaching federal government.

The bills range from the benign to the practical to the outright ridiculous, with the majority simply political grandstanding meant to allow conservative lawmakers an opportunity to display their defiant, emotional and persistent resistance to any form of gun control.

And on a weekend when the National Rifle Association is meeting in Houston, the timing for this barrage of gun and ammunition laws in the House seems opportune for those seeking the favor of the most powerful gun lobby in the country.

•  House Bills 47 and 48 would streamline the process for renewal of a concealed handgun license, including reducing to about half the number of classroom hours required, and allowing for quizzes to be taken online. That may be fine, since there was testimony in a committee hearing that the classes (10 to 15 hours) were too long and many licensees are getting them online from other states anyway.

•  Under HB508, a licensed carrier would be able to sue the state or political subdivision if those entities “incorrectly” enforce laws to keep lawful carriers off public premises and away from governmental meetings. This is a technical quibble over whether some governmental entities provide proper notice that a holder of a concealed handgun is forbidden to enter or remain on the property. The legislation seems unnecessary.

•  With HB1421, law enforcement would have another option when a seized weapon is prohibited from being returned to its owner. The weapon now may be destroyed or forfeited to the state for use by agencies holding it. The proposed bill would allow the court to sell the weapon, at a public sale, to a federally licensed firearms dealer. There is no short supply of arms, so there is no need for the courts or law enforcement agencies to become firearms dealers.

•  House Bills 928 and 1076 institute provisions that attempt to make federal gun laws unenforceable in Texas if they are in conflict with state regulations. Part of the committee analysis of HB928 explains that it will ensure “that when federal overreach occurs, the federal government must utilize its own time, resources and will to enter into the state and enforce its laws by designing a framework whereby state officials cooperate with a federal firearm regulation only when such a regulation also exists in state law.” This is a tired old states’ rights argument that has little tie to reality and should not pass.

The gun bill in the House getting the most attention is HB972, which would allow licensed carriers to bring firearms on college campuses. Sponsored by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, the bill has been modified somewhat in hopes of gaining more support in the Senate.

Robert Papierz, Fletcher’s chief of staff, told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board on Friday that the bill now has an “opt-out” for public universities and an “opt-in” for private higher ed institutions.

With many college presidents already on record against guns on campus, it is likely that even were this to pass, most universities would choose to ban them. And rightly so. More guns in public places, especially at educational institutions, will not necessarily make those places safer. In fact, there is a greater potential for danger.

The Legislature no doubt will earn points this weekend with the NRA, even if what it’s doing is mostly symbolic. It will be interesting to see who will take a stand against some of these laws.

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