Texas is new target for constitutional carry — the unlicensed carry of handguns — in 2019

Several Texas lawmakers signed pledges at the Texas Republican state convention promising to work on passing constitutional carry if re-elected to the House.
Several Texas lawmakers signed pledges at the Texas Republican state convention promising to work on passing constitutional carry if re-elected to the House. Hartford Courant

Some gun rights advocates have set their sights on Texas.

That has made the Lone Star State the next battleground for constitutional carry, which would let Texans carry their weapons — openly or concealed — without first getting a permit.

"People talk about taking your guns away to protect you from yourself or others," Tim Macy, chairman of Gun Owners of America, told a group gathered at the Republican Party of Texas state convention Friday in San Antonio. "If these are good ideas, to take your guns away in any manner, why is it OK for (officials such as congressional leaders) to be so protected?"

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, proposed constitutional carry in Texas last year but was unable to pass it through the Legislature.

When that bill died, "we made a decision, as much as we can, to help Texas pass constitutional carry next year," Macy said. "We will use resources ... to push the Legislature and governor (to make law) constitutional carry."

He called on lawmakers to sign pledges promising to support such a law next year.

Stickland was among those who stepped forward to sign the pledge on Friday.

"This bill is getting filed," he said before signing the pledge. "There have been a lot of people who have asked. There’s going to be a bill."

Licensed Texans already may openly carry their weapons, or carry them concealed. They also may carry them on some college campuses.

Yeoman's work

Tyler Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer, who heads the Texas Freedom Caucus, said Stickland's bill last session was yeoman's work.

"We made progress," he said. "We are getting closer to a really good product."

Critics last year said this proposal isn't something regular Texans want.

“This is what the extreme gun lobby wants,” Marsha McCartney, a spokeswoman for the Texas chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told the Star-Telegram during the debate last year. “I don’t think the everyday person wants this.”

“I don’t think anyone would have actually thought guns on campus would pass” in 2015, McCartney said. “They turn a blind eye to what the citizens of the state want and then officials pander to the gun lobby. It’s ridiculous.”

Schaefer said he realizes that the idea of unlicensed carry may scare some people.

"We'd do well to understand the feelings those people have ... to resolve those issues," he said.

Finding solutions?

Friday's discussion comes in the wake of mass school shootings, most recently last month's in Santa Fe, near Houston, that left 10 dead and even more injured. Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old student, has been charged of capital murder.

After the shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott held roundtables at the Texas Capitol and proposed a 40-point school safety plan that included adding more school marshals — school employees who are trained in several areas and are prepared and ready to respond to active shooters — to keep students safe. He was not part of the gun group's discussion Friday.

But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was there and he said it's time to take action.

"Let’s stop wasting time talking about gun regulations and identify things that work," Paxton said.

Dangerous world

Republicans have had the call for constitutional carry in their party's platform, an outline of party beliefs that candidates do not always follow and are not bound by.

They may also this year decide to make the issue one of their top legislative priorities.

"Both the Texas and federal constitutions guarantee the right to bear and keep arms," delegate Andrew Holley of Amarillo, who was among those openly carrying handguns at the convention, told the Star-Telegram as to why he supports such a law.

"I carry every day," he said. "We live in a dangerous world and people do weird things."

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley