Politics & Government

Lawmaker seeks to force debate on unlicensed constitutional carry

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland wants every Texan to be able to openly carry handguns — licensed or not.

Determined to force a vote on the issue, despite strong bipartisan opposition, the Beford Republican formally filed a request this week for a committee hearing on his constitutional carry bill, House Bill 195.

“It is past time that Texans have their constitutional right to defend themselves fully restored,” said Stickland. “I believe that ‘shall not be infringed’ is one of the clearest statements in the Constitution and requiring citizens to pay a fee and take a class is definitely an infringement.”

Stickland — a second-term Tea Party conservative and outspoken lawmaker — knows there’s no guarantee a hearing will be called. His proposal faces stiff competition from a plan to allow only licensed Texans to carry handguns openly.

“It’s up to the committee chair,” Stickland said. “He does not have to grant the hearing at all.”

His constitutional carry bill last month was referred to the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, headed by state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman.

Phillips is carrying an open carry bill to allow licensed Texans to carry guns and nearly half of the House has signed on to co-author his bill.

“The fight begins now,” Stickland said. “The chairman’s bill is the one that is anointed, the one that’s going to move.”

Guns — and where and how they can be carried — have been a major topic at the Texas Capitol this session.

Controversial issue

Last month, a pair of proposals in the Senate to allow handguns to be carried openly across Texas and concealed on public college campuses was approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee. Those proposals could make it to the Senate floor for consideration as soon as this month.

Phillilps’ bill is identical to the one by state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, approved in committee last month.

Texas is one of a half-dozen states that doesn’t allow any form of open carry, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Texans may openly and legally carry long guns in public. But it has been illegal for more than 125 years to openly carry handguns.

Earlier this session, open carry supporters — who have showed up at the Capitol in numbers not seen before — visited some lawmakers’ offices, urging them to support open carry. They drew media attention after a heated exchange with a state lawmaker.

Kory Watkins, spokesman for Tarrant County Open Carry, posted a video online that showed open carry advocates being aggressive with state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, telling him he “won’t be here very long, bro,” because he doesn’t support open carry.

Soon after that, the Texas House approved new rules letting lawmakers install panic buttons in their office, to summon Texas Department of Public Safety officers if they feel the need to remove people from their offices.

Nevarez is now vice chair of the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee. And while Stickland initially feared his presence on the committee would doom his bill, he said he no longer worries about that.

“I don’t think Poncho has an ax to grind on this bill,” Stickland said. “I’m not saying he’s for it, ... but I think it has tampered down.”

Backup plan

Stickland’s request for a hearing on his bill lets supporters know that he’s ready to move forward with it.

“He wants to say he’s filed a request,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political analyst. “He’s on the record.”

But it’s not an unusual move, said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth.

“In most cases, you must submit a formal hearing request before your bill gets heard,” he said. “My office is working on all of ours right now as well.”

Phillips did not return a call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Stickland said he’s ready for a hearing on his bill. But he has a backup plan in case a different gun proposal moves through the Legislature.

He plans to try to amend any gun bill possible to allow constitutional carry in Texas.

“There’s nothing procedurally they can do to stop me from offering my amendment,” Stickland said. “We will at least get a procedural vote on constitutional carry.

“It’s not as extreme as people want to make it out to be. This is happening all over the country and Texas is way behind. But it’s still an uphill battle.”

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

Jonathan Stickland: Making his mark in the Legislature

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, isn’t shy in his second Legislative session.

The 31-year-old Tea Party conservative this session has introduced several high-profile bills to: allow constitutional carry, or the unlicensed open carry of handguns; end the use of red light cameras in Texas; and repeal a law that lets unauthorized immigrants pay lower, in-state resident tuition rates at public universities and receive scholarships in Texas.

Two years ago, Stickland drew headlines in his first session for everything from authoring one of the strongest email privacy measures in the country to wearing his concealed handgun nearly every day at the Texas Capitol.

Stickland represents House District 92, which is centered in Hurst, Euless and Bedford.

This year, he was among a group of 19 House members who drew attention on the first day of the session for supporting state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Rockwall, rather than incumbent Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, for the post of House Speaker.

“When you vote against the sitting speaker, you are going to have to work that much harder to get your legislation taken seriously,” Stickland said. “I knew that going into the vote, it would make things more difficult. I don’t regret it.

“I had to fight tooth and nail for every inch my freshman session. I expect it again this session.”

— Anna M. Tinsley