by Heidi Pérez-Moreno, The Texas Tribune.
A new state law will soon let most Texans carry handguns in public without going through training or having to get permits. Gov. Greg Abbott lauded the so-called “constitutional carry” legislation and other firearms bills when he signed them into law.
“You could say that I signed into law today some laws that protect gun rights,” Abbott said at the bill signing in June. “But today, I signed documents that instilled freedom in the Lone Star State.”
But some Texas law enforcement officers fear that removing restrictions to carrying handguns could increase crime rates while putting officers and residents in danger.
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“When it comes down to it, it’s just a sense of disappointment that the bill ultimately was passed,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association.
Conservative activists have long pushed for a permitless carry law in Texas, but such measures got little traction in the previous three legislative sessions. In 2019, a permitless carry bill didn’t even get a committee hearing in the Texas House.
When lawmakers gaveled in for the 2021 regular legislative session in January — the first since back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa — some legislators expected to pass substantive firearm restrictions.
After all, Abbott had proposed several policies to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not possess them. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick famously said he was “willing to take an arrow” from the National Rifle Association in order to pursue stronger background check laws.
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Instead, the Texas Legislature moved in the other direction.
Advocates of permitless carry said a shakeup in House leadership and the growing number of states with similar laws meant this year was their best chance to get a bill through. The Senate and House passed different versions of House Bill 1927, but agreed to a negotiated piece of legislation in May. The House approved the final version 82-62.
It was part of a slew of pro-gun legislation that lawmakers passed this year. Other measures passed include a bill that would bar government contracts with those who discriminate against the firearm industry as a whole, one that would remove firearm suppressors from the state’s list of prohibited weapons, and a House bill that prohibits state and local governments from enforcing new federal gun regulations.
“Texas is finally a pro-gun state despite years of foot-dragging, roadblocks, and excuses from the spineless political class,” Texas Gun Rights executive director Chris McNutt said in a statement after Abbott signed the bill. “I’m proud of the work grassroots gun owners have put in to get Texas Constitutional Carry finally signed into law.”
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None of the five lead authors of HB 1927 responded to requests for comment.
Currently, Texans are mostly required to be licensed to carry handguns, regardless of whether they are open or concealed. To attain a license, applicants are required to submit fingerprints, complete four to six hours of training, and pass a written exam and shooting proficiency test. This doesn’t apply to rifles, which do not require licenses to be carried in public.
The new law — set to go into effect Sept. 1 — will allow anyone 21 years or older to carry a handgun in public without need for a permit or training as long as they aren’t otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm by law, such as people with felony or domestic violence convictions.
Most Texas voters opposed the idea of allowing people to carry handguns in public places without permits or licenses, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll conducted in April. Although 56% of Republicans supported unlicensed carry, 59% of all voters opposed it.
Texas law enforcement officers voiced staunch opposition to the new law as it moved through the Legislature.
“I don’t know what it’s a solution to,” said James McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Association. “I don’t know what the problem was to start with.”
Lawrence, also the chair of trustees for the Texas Fraternal Order of Police, said part of the reason the bill got support was because of some increased crime rates last year, leading Texans to fear that law enforcement might not be able to protect them. He also noted it could have partially been pushback to calls last year to “defund the police,” a movement that aims to lower law enforcement budgets and reallocate funds to social service programs.
“The entire process was done to appease a certain block of voters, to appease a very, very vocal, active group that were just demanding that they be allowed to carry guns,” he said.
Lawmakers added several amendments to the bill to assuage law enforcement’s concerns, including a requirement that the Department of Public Safety offer a free online firearm safety training course.
Ray Hunt, executive director of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said the bill could potentially have grave consequences for law enforcement officers, noting that it could be harder for them to decipher whether someone carrying a weapon is legally able to do so.
His opposition toward the bill lessened after lawmakers changed it to ease law enforcement’s worries about certain provisions, including one that would have banned officers from questioning a person based solely on their possession of a handgun.
Hunt and other law enforcement officials hope their fears over the permitless carry law won’t come to pass.
Law enforcement heavily condemned 2016’s “open carry” law that permits Texans to openly carry handguns in public as long as they have a permit. Many said they didn’t end up seeing noticeable effects after it passed.
“We were completely opposed to ‘license to carry’ when it happened, and we said all of the same arguments that we’re saying now,” Hunt said. “And nothing happened, so we’re hoping that we’re overreacting. We’re just concerned because anytime there’s more guns, there’s a problem.”
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