AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Fierce opposition from police across the state on Wednesday derailed an effort that would allow people to openly carry handguns on the streets of Texas in a move that could prevent the measure from passing this legislative session.
The bill would allow Texas residents licensed to carry concealed weapons to carry handguns openly. The House had appeared ready to pass it and send it to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to sign into law. But law enforcement groups rallied strong opposition, demanding lawmakers take out a provision restricting police powers to question people carrying weapons, asking them for their licenses if they had no other reason to stop them.
That argument swayed House members, who rejected an attempt to pass the bill and chose instead to negotiate a new version.
The no-stop provision “handcuffs law enforcement,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a Capitol news conference. He was backed by members of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, the Sheriffs Association of Texas and police unions from Dallas and Houston.
All said the no-stop provision would endanger the public and police who are trained to be wary of firearms in any situation.
“If it doesn’t get removed, the only responsible thing to do is for the governor to veto,” Acevedo said.
An Abbott spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment.
It was a surprise reversal for the House, which supports open carry in general and approved the no-stop provision with little debate back in April. It didn’t sound alarms until a boisterous Senate debate last week that was sparked by a rare coalition of liberals and tea party conservatives who supported it.
Conservatives argued police should not be allowed to stop someone engaging in law-abiding activity, and some minority lawmakers said it would prevent racial profiling.
The issue flared up again in the House on Wednesday.
“What’s going to happen is more interaction between police and black and brown and poor people because of lawful activity,” said Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston Democrat who is black.
This time, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans rallied behind police to push for the provision being removed.
Republican Phil King, a former police officer from Weatherford, warned police would not be allowed to question someone carrying a gun outside of a day care.
King called open carry a “quantum shift” for police and the public and said the no-stop restriction would put officers in “an uncomfortable situation.”
The delay could harm a bill that had been expected to pass this session and has been given strong support from Abbott, who has pledged to sign any bill that expands gun rights. With less than a week left, at least one senator, Rodney Ellis, has threatened a late-session filibuster to kill it if given a chance.
Wednesday’s resounding 79-63 rejection of the bill in its current form could also indicate it will struggle to pass if police don’t get their way.
Police sent a strong message to the Legislature’s Republican majority that they will keep up the pressure.
“You can’t be the party of law and order and not listen to us,” Acevedo said. “If it doesn’t get removed, the only responsible thing to do is for the governor to veto.”