Texas Politics

Here’s a recap of the gun laws Texas lawmakers passed this legislative session

Note: This article has been updated to correct Gov. Greg Abbott’s explanation for vetoing House Bill 1168.

Following the mass shooting in El Paso Saturday that left at least 22 dead and injured more than 20, calls have grown for lawmakers to address gun safety and mental health in a state that has seen four of the top ten deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history.

The legislature wrapped up its biennial legislative session in May, and it was the first chance for lawmakers to craft legislation in the wake of mass shootings in Sutherland Springs in 2017 and Santa Fe in 2018.

While lawmakers increased resources for mental health and school safety, they also made it easier for guns to be allowed in more places, like churches.

The NRA celebrated this session as “highly successful“ and backed 10 gun-related bills that were signed into law.

“We will not participate in the politicizing of these tragedies,” the NRA said in a statement in the wake of this weekend’s shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

Unless Gov. Greg Abbott calls lawmakers back to Austin, they aren’t set to gavel back in until January 2021.

Here’s a recap of some of the most notable laws passed this session related to guns and mass shootings.

What passed

In the wake of the shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 dead and 13 wounded in May 2018, lawmakers vowed to beef up school safety and made it one of their top priorities.

“What they went through has not happened in vain. In their memory we are taking tangible, concrete steps to see that no one has to go through, as best we can prevent it, what they went through,” Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who represents part of Santa Fe said at a ceremonial bill signing in June.

They passed multiple bills that include measures such as allocating funds to secure campuses, establishing threat assessment teams, establishing a consortium of experts to address students’ mental health needs and requiring training for educators on mental health conditions and suicide prevention.

But Texas Gun Sense, a nonprofit that advocates for policies that reduce gun violence, said it was not enough.

“Legislators had a lot of time to formulate evidence-based policies that save lives at schools,” the group said in a May statement about the shooting’s one-year anniversary. “Unfortunately, too many legislators developed and voted in favor of legislation that will make schools and communities less safe when it comes to firearms.”

The legislature also passed laws that may result in more firearms coming to campuses. One bill abolished the cap of one school marshal per 200 students, and another prohibits schools from regulating how handguns or ammunition are stored in vehicles in school parking lots.

Spurred by the Santa Fe High School shooting, lawmakers also allocated $1 million in the state budget for a public safety campaign on gun storage. In that instance, the shooter used his father’s guns to carry out the attack.

While student activists advocated for stronger gun control laws in the wake of the Santa Fe shooting, lawmakers largely allowed firearms in more places this session.

Previously, openly carrying or bringing a concealed firearm was prohibited in places of worship, unless the religious organization granted approval. But starting Sept. 1, gun owners are legally allowed to carry handguns into places of worship and are prohibited from doing so only if the religious organization gives notice that it’s restricted.

“Places of worship are not crime-free zones, as Texans sadly know,” the NRA wrote in a post celebrating this session, alluding to the Sutherland Springs shooting that took place in a Baptist church in 2017.

“It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm,” Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and author of the bill, said in a statement when it was filed.

One bill prohibits landowners from restricting tenants from having guns on the premises, and another imposes similar restrictions on homeowners’ associations. Meanwhile, local municipalities and counties will be restricted when regulating the possession or sale of firearms, ammunition and more.

State agencies may also not restrict licensed handgun owners from carrying a firearm on government property.

As long as they’re legally allowed to own one, Texans who aren’t licensed to carry firearms will also be permitted to do so openly up to a week after a state of disaster is declared, such as while evacuating during a hurricane.

“We experienced one of the worst disasters in Texas history during Harvey. The World watched as we all came together. This bill wasn’t needed then & isn’t needed now,”Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted after the bill’s passage in May.

Previously, the Department of Family and Protective Services required that foster homes lock firearms and ammunition in separate locations. Soon, they can be stored together.

One bill waived fees and and some requirements for retired peace officers seeking a license to carry a handgun, and others developed a firearm training program for county jailers and permits them to carry a firearm throughout their duties if they successfully complete it.

If a someone who is licensed to carry a handgun is not a U.S. citizen, a bill added the date a person’s lawful presence in the U.S. expires as a reason for their license to expire as well.

A bill that would have given state officials the same jurisdiction as federal law enforcement to bring charges against people who bring a firearm into a secure area of an airport passed out of the House and Senate, and only needed to clear the last hurdle of earning the governor’s signature to become law. But Abbott vetoed the bill, saying it would prevent Texans from carrying firearms anywhere in an airport terminal, even ahead of the TSA inspection checkpoint.

“By vetoing this bill, I am ensuring that Texans can travel without leaving their firearms at home,” Abbott wrote.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, authored the legislation, and said in a June statement following the veto that the focus of the bill was to ensure law enforcement could protect airport passengers.

“Making sure people with guns can’t get on the tarmac is common sense,” Anchia said. “The legislature gets it. The governor didn’t.”

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.