Politics & Government

Gun showdown in Texas House: Leader bets ‘critics an AR-15’ that rights won’t be hurt

Open carry in Texas begins

Open carry became legal in Texas on Jan. 1, 2016.
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Open carry became legal in Texas on Jan. 1, 2016.

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen wants to make one thing perfectly clear.

Gun rights are safe and sound this session, despite some grumbling from grassroots activists.

“I’ll bet my critics an AR-15 that their gun rights won’t be infringed,” he posted recently on Facebook.

This comes after some Texans began criticizing the Angleton Republican for “betraying” efforts to pass more legislation.

“For the first time in decades, a Speaker has appointed anti-gun Democrats to chair the two most important House Committees for Texas gun owners,” according to an article by The Texas Firearms Coalition.

At issue: state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, who was named to head the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, and state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, who was appointed to head the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

“It has come to my attention that a small handful of gun rights fringe groups have called my leadership into question. Let me set the record straight,” Bonnen wrote on Facebook. “For 22 years I have been an advocate for Texan’s 2nd Amendment Rights.

“I have not wavered at any point.”

Democrat leaders

Collier received an F rating last year from the National Riffle Association.

“I’m here to promote the legislative process,” she said Tuesday. “Speaker Bonnen has set the tone for the new session and has expressed his trust and confidence in his colleagues in the House.”

Nevarez received a D rating from the NRA.

In 2015, Nevarez became the center of media attention after open carry supporters had a heated exchange with him.

Kory Watkins, then a spokesman for Tarrant County Open Carry, posted a video online that showed open carry advocates being aggressive with Nevarez, telling him he “won’t be here very long, bro,” because he didn’t support open carry.

The House soon approved new rules letting lawmakers put panic buttons in their offices that would summon Texas Department of Public Safety troopers if they needed to remove people from their offices.

Gun rights concerns

The fear this session is that anti-gun bills in the House will get hearings but “pro-gun bills either will not get a hearing or won’t get a committee vote in time to reach the House floor for debate and voting,” the Firearms Coalition article stated.

It went on to encourage Texas gun owners to reach out to top Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, to weigh in on “Bonnen’s betrayal.”

“The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make the political price of betrayal so high that no elected official can afford it,” according to the article.

Bonnen responded to the concerns on social media. He said his committee appointments “represent diverse views — just as any well functioning democracy should.”

But he said he also named a majority of pro-gun members to committees that will consider gun legislation.

“The fact that some fringe groups can’t count to 5 for a 9 member committee is really not my problem,” he wrote.

And he believes committee chairs will “allow reasonable bills which reflect the values of Texans” to make their way through the session.

“But as they say, talk is cheap,” Bonnen wrote. “So the final test will be what does or doesn’t happen when the gavel falls at the end of the 86th Legislative Session.”

The 86th legislative session runs through May 27.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.