Despite law enforcement concerns, Texans could be allowed to carry firearms concealed or openly without a permit or safety training under a proposal considered by the state House on Tuesday.
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, said this measure known as Constitutional Carry would once and for all fully restore Texans’ Second Amendment rights.
“This is a big day for many Texans,” said Stickland, who authored the bill more than a dozen lawmakers have signed on to, including state Reps. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. “Texans are sick of big government. They are sick of wondering if their rights are always disappearing.”
But it’s unclear how far the proposal will fare in the House or the Senate. It faces numerous hurdles before it would become law.
More than 320 people signed up to weigh in on the issue before the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and more than 75,000 petitions supporting the measure were presented.
As law enforcers and others said they worry about the proposal, Stickland and supporters said it’s time Texas joins the other 11 states that don’t require gun owners to fill out an application, take gun training and pay a permit fee before carrying their handguns publicly.
“I don’t think the government has a right to say you have a Second Amendment right only if you take this class and pay this fee,” Stickland said. “Right now there is no way for us to legally carry without begging the government for permission.”
But some worry that this proposal opens the door for felons and Texans with mental issues to end up carrying handguns in public, since the bill restricts peace officers from asking people if they are legally carrying.
“We are opposed to this,” said Andrea Brauer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, a group that pushes for gun control measures. “Training shouldn’t be optional. Licensing shouldn’t be optional. With this bill, anybody can carry with absolutely no oversight.
“It really puts public safety at risk.”
As for arguments that this is a God-given right, Brauer said she and others at Texans Gun Sense “don’t know God’s position on this bill.”
Doc Green, a radio show host, disagreed.
He said the reason he supports the proposal is “because the Lord Jesus Chris is my God ... [and] He said very clearly in Luke 22 that he values the ability to defend yourself.”
Krause said before the hearing that concern about the wrong people carrying guns exists now, without Constitutional Carry.
“We’ve seen time and time again that if prohibitions to getting guns were a deterrent to felons, then Chicago would be the safest city in the world,” he said. “I don’t think felons are going to say, ‘Oh, now I can carry guns. That’s great.’
“Felons are going to carry guns, laws or not.”
Stickland proposed a bill allowing Constitutional Carry in 2015, but it was overshadowed by two proposals that did pass, one allowing Texans to openly carry handguns in most areas of the state and the other allowing concealed handguns on some college campuses.
Stickland said House Bill 375 doesn’t expand who can carry a gun, or where they can carry a gun, and it doesn’t get rid of the License to Carry. It makes the license an option, instead of mandatory, which, he said, means that it shouldn’t shrink state revenue. Many gun owners likely will continue to renew their permits even with this law because of the reciprocity allowed with other states.
He did say it would mean that Texans, who may possess guns at age 18 but can’t carry them until they are 21, would be able to carry them — without licenses — at 18 in many areas, including college campuses.
Peace officers, including those representing the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and the Houston Police Department, were quick to oppose the bill.
“What we have on the books right now, we are still getting used to,” said Deputy Deborah Bell, a Dallas sheriff’s spokeswoman.
She said Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez supports the Second Amendment and believes everyone has a right to bear arms.
But this bill, Bell said, “seeks to take away some of our abilities to (protect the public) effectively” because without licenses, police can’t determine who is legally and illegally carrying guns.
The League of Women Voters and Moms Demand Action were among the other groups opposing the bill.
Others — including Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights, and members of Lone Star Gun Rights, who helped bring in petitions supporting the bill — disagree.
“We think it empowers citizens,” he said.
“Let’s pass this bill out of committee as soon as possible,” Stickland urged the committee. “It is the right thing to do. It is the constitutional thing to do.”
Many say it won’t be an easy task to make Constitutional Carry law.
“Imagine, no more being fingerprinted like a common criminal, having to pass a test, and pay a tax just to carry your firearm for self-defense as a law-abiding citizen,” Byron Schirmbeck, state coordinator for the Texas Campaign for Liberty, wrote in an email to supporters recently. “After all, there is no tax, permit, or test for your First Amendment rights.”
He warned supporters that shepherding this bill through the Legislature wouldn’t be easy.
“Anti-gun special interest groups — and even weak-kneed Republicans who are afraid of freedom — will do anything they can to prevent this from coming to a vote.”
A few moments stood out during the hours-long committee hearing.
Several people linked their inability to carry guns without first getting a state permit to slavery. About three hours into the hearing, state Rep. Jarvis D. Johnson, a Houston Democrat, responded.
“We all live by laws in the United States,” Johnson said. “A slave would not have the opportunity to protest his ideology before this body. … A slave couldn’t do anything.
“I take it as an insult when you try to compare your constitutional right to carry a gun to involuntary slavehood,” he said. “I would prefer to limit your comparison to a law we all have to live by — you and I — no matter what our skin color is.”
Kory Watkins, who two years ago drew attention for a posting a video online some said threatened the safety of some lawmakers and for a dust-up with state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, over gun proposals, drew attention for his testimony as well Tuesday.
Nevarez is a member of the committee listening to the testimony.
“We have a right that is guaranteed to us by our creator and protected by the constitution,” said Watkins, who has been a leader of Tarrant County Open Carry. “I find it kind of crazy I can walk around with my [loaded] AK-47 … but I can’t simply put a Glock 19 on my hip to walk around” without first getting a permit.
Nevarez said he agreed with Watkins, that it’s crazy he can walk around with an AK-47.
Other gun issues
Constitutional Carry is among several gun measures ricocheting through the Texas Capitol.
On Tuesday, the House committee unanimously approved a committee substitute to HB 300, which would slash the cost of getting a license to carry a handgun from $140 to $40 for first-time licensees and from $70 to $40 for annual renewals. The full Senate on Monday approved a companion bill.
Supporters said this fee cut was needed because only two states — Illinois and Arkansas — have more costly fees for licenses to carry. Opponents say shrinking this fee will cost the state around $15 million, which could cause money woes in an already tight budget yet
The committee also approved HB 131 by Krause, exempting the intrastate manufacture of a firearm, accessories and ammunition from federal regulation, which includes registration.
And the committee also considered a measure similar to Stickland’s, House Bill 1911 by state Rep. James White, R-Hillister.
White maintains the state already has constitutional carry regarding rifles and other long arms. Now he wants the same status for handguns.
“Whether licensed or unlicensed or a possessor of a pistol, revolver or a rifle, the eligibility requirements should be the same,” White has said.
A Senate committee has also given early approval to SB 263, which removes the stipulation that a .32-caliber or higher handgun be used for the state’s shooting proficiency test.