Politics & Government

Patrick: Open carry bill doesn’t have the votes to pass Texas Senate — for now

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick AP

The hotly contested push to allow Texans to openly carry handguns statewide was dealt a serious blow Tuesday, when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he doesn’t believe there’s enough support to make it law.

But Patrick does think that a plan to allow concealed handguns on college campuses has enough legislative support to pass the Senate.

“Second Amendment rights are very important, but open carry does not reach to the level of prioritizing at this point,” said Patrick, a Republican from Houston who took office last week. “I don’t think the votes are there.”

Gun rights supporters and activists who have been rallying at the Texas Capitol say they believe Patrick is wrong.

“We aren’t giving up,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who has filed a Constitutional Carry bill that would let Texans openly tote their handguns without a license. “We’re doubling down.”

The issue of whether to allow the open carry of handguns in Texas has been debated for years, even as legislative measures to allow that have died year after year.

It amped up in recent years, as supporters of the movement took to the streets with their semiautomatic rifles and black powder pistols — which are legal to openly carry in Texas — hoping to draw attention to, and support for, their cause.

Supporters took their openly displayed firearms and marched on sidewalks, into businesses, even to the Republican Party of Texas’ state convention last year at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

After a rally and demonstration at the Texas Capitol earlier this month drew media attention and concern by some lawmakers for their safety, some demonstrators this week switched to having supporters tote bananas and rolled-up copies of the Constitution in their holsters.

But they didn’t stop, and don’t plan to.

“Everyone and their brother knows the governor is expecting this bill and wants this bill,” Stickland said. “This is a Republican Party platform issue. This isn’t some pie in the sky.

“Texas is behind on gun rights and people are demanding action.”

Differing opinions

Patrick’s comments came Tuesday during a conversation with Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. He touched on several issues but his comments about open carry and campus carry touched off a firestorm.

Patrick noted that open carry is an important proposal. But stacked up against other issues this session, such as transportation needs or tax relief, he doesn’t think it will necessarily succeed.

“The votes have not been there” to pass it, he said. “I don’t think there’s support in the Legislature to pass it … as of today.”

Activists disagree.

“He’s not listening to the people,” said Kory Watkins, coordinator for Open Carry Tarrant County. “He’s going to have to find a new job if he doesn’t start listening to the people.”

Open Carry Tarrant County started a new Facebook page, “Dan Patrick Says Open Carry Lacks Support … Lets Show Him,” asking Texans to contact the lieutenant governor’s office to “let him know what the people think.”

Stickland said Patrick is the right person to lead the Senate and he would best know what support there is in the upper chamber for open carry.

“If Dan hasn’t had anyone bring this issue up to him, let me make it clear, I am bringing it up to him now,” he said. “We need to protect the Second Amendment rights of Texans and it’s embarrassing that we haven’t in the past.”

Patrick noted that he personally wouldn’t choose to open carry. “But I respect people’s rights,” he said. “If the votes are there, … open carry will pass.”

Patrick, who co-sponsored a 2013 bill to let Texans carry concealed handguns on college campuses, said he does believes there is enough support to pass campus carry this year.

“My priority is the Constitution and my God-given right to bear arms,” Watkins said. “I’m trying to get back to that as much as possible. Open carry is part of that and campus carry is as well.”

Controversy this year

Earlier this session, open carry supporters visited some lawmakers’ offices, urging them to support open carry and drew media attention after a heated exchange with a state lawmaker.

Watkins 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.

Some open carry supporters at the time feared that such an aggressive campaign could hurt their effort to overturn the state’s ban on openly carrying handguns.

“The chances of passing what they call ‘constitutional carry’ got more remote with [the Jan. 13] shenanigans,” former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who as a state senator shepherded the state’s concealed carry through the legislature and supports open carry, said at the time. “That set the stage. That’s the topic of discussion now.”

Local gun issues

Meanwhile, tension continues to build between Arlington police and some gun enthusiasts who say they plan to invest in body armor and a camera-equipped quadcopter.

Watkins said he and friend Kenny Lovett were filming a traffic stop in Arlington Saturday when officers told them to put their weapons — a black powder pistol and an AK-47 — inside the vehicle.

Watkins stashed his long gun in the truck; Lovett was arrested for interfering with public duties and also charged with disorderly conduct — displaying a firearm or other deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to cause alarm. He was released from Arlington Jail on $1,500 bond, police say.

Watkins said the participants have no intention to stop filming police or openly carrying while doing it. Watkins said the group is considering buying a remote-controlled quadcopter to help film police activity — and some participants may start wearing body armor.

“They walk about with body armor. Police officers have guns, drones and body armor,” Watkins said. “I think we should be able to have equal arms as they do.”

Texas rights

Right now, it’s time to focus on making sure Texans have the rights they deserve, said CJ Grisham, founder and president of Open Carry Texas.

“If Lt. Gov Patrick doesn’t think the votes are there, prove it,” he said. “Bring [the bills] to a vote so we can see who is breaking their campaign promises to get open carry passed and hold them accountable in 2016.

“If Republicans turn their back on their own state platform of passing constitutional carry, they are turning their backs on every law abiding Texan that is demanding the same rights that 44 other states have, 31 of which don’t require a license,” Grisham said. “Texans are no less deserving, no less responsible, no less trustworthy of exercising their rights than any other state.”

Staff writer Susan Schrock contributed to this report.

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

On The Table

A number of measures to allow open carry of some sort in Texas have been filed.

The one to draw much attention has been Stickland’s House Bill 195, which would let Texans openly carry their handguns with or without a license.

He said supporters of Constitutional Carry have gained more than 100,000 signatures on petitions for this effort.

Many say politicians will be under more pressure than ever to pass this, or a similar bill, since Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has said he will sign into law an open carry measure if it passes the legislature.

Fashioned after a Vermont law, it would let Texans who are legally allowed to possess firearms carry them in the open or concealed, without any license.

Stickland has said that means anyone legally eligible to own a gun could carry it openly and freely across the state without getting permission from bureaucrats.

“Any open carry bill that hits the floor, I will offer an amendment changing it to constitutional carry,” he said Tuesday. “We will have this discussion. We will have this debate.”

— Anna M. Tinsley

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