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Texas Becomes Latest State to Allow Permitless Handgun Carry

Starting Sept. 1, Texans can legally carry a holstered handgun on them in public without obtaining a state issued permit.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) --- With a stroke of the pen, Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday made Texas the 21st state to allow permitless or “constitutional” carry of a handgun in public.

The governor signed House Bill 1927 into law, lifting the state requirement for anyone carrying a handgun in public to have a license. The only requirements for someone to carry a holstered handgun in Texas is they must be 21 years of age and be eligible to legally own a firearm. 

Supporters of HB 1927 see the Second Amendment as the only permit needed and any other requirements are an infringement on that right. 

After the bill goes into effect on Sept. 1, Texans no longer have to undergo a training course, spend several hours at the range with an instructor and submit documentation and fingerprints to obtain a state issued license. The license to carry permit will still exist in the state of Texas and is required for Texas residents to carry in other states that offer reciprocity to out of state residents who wish to carry a firearm within the states' boundaries. 

While a person will be able to carry their handgun with them permit-free, they are still subject to laws restricting the carrying of a firearm in sensitive locations such as government buildings, on public transportation, at polling places or in bars. Private businesses will still be allowed to restrict individuals' ability to carry a handgun on their property.

After being passed out of the House in March, HB 1927 faced hurdles in the Senate. This prompted Lt. Governor Dan Patrick to appoint a Senate Special Committee on Constitutional Issues. The committee, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, was tasked with advancing permitless carry while addressing overwhelming concerns from the public.

Chair of the Constitutional Issues Committee Republican Senator Charles Schwertner said during a meeting, “Now more than ever, Texans want to make sure that their Second Amendment rights are not only protected but restored.”

Democratic Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa raised concerns about how not permitless carry might complicate the work of law enforcement. Hinojosa pointed out that despite the law in Texas barring anyone under the age of 21 years old or who has been convicted of a felony from owning a gun, those individuals are still able to acquire firearms through gun shows, family members or illegal means.

Hinojosa was not alone with his objection to the bill. Permitless carry has faced apprehension from within the Republican Party in Texas every session the issue was brought up. 

In past legislative sessions, permitless carry had little to no support, even among conservative Republicans like Lt. Governor Patrick. He has in the past expressed similar concerns about permitless carry and its impact on policing. While HB 1927 began gathering steam in the House, Patrick expressed doubts it would have enough support in the Senate to survive.

After it was passed in the House, the Senate made changes to the bill that were focused on addressing these concerns. One provision that has survived a conference committee is striking a provision that would have barred law enforcement from questioning someone solely on their possession of a gun. 

During this legislative session, Republican lawmakers have advanced legislation that would punish Texas cities for decreasing police budgets and have, since last summer's demonstrations across the country and in Texas against police brutality and systemic racism, used “Back the Blue” rhetoric to display their support for police. However, Republicans find themselves on the other side of police when it comes to permitless carry.  

Texas Municipal Police Association Executive Director Kevin Lawrence was at the capital in April with police chiefs and union leaders from across the state to voice their opposition to HB 1927. 

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Lawrence said in an interview that the changes made by the Senate “addressed a lot of our concerns, it did not address all of our concerns. I do believe that [the bill] is still going to make the jobs of our law enforcement officers more difficult and more dangerous; however, that is what [the people] pay us to do.” 

What makes the job of law enforcement more dangerous is that Texans will now not be required to take training and learn core skills that would keep gun owners and those around them safe, according to Lawrence. 

This legislation also appears to be “a solution looking for a problem,” in the eyes of many, including Lawrence. He said that when it comes to who is being arrested for unlawfully carrying a firearm, “the answer is criminals.” “[Police] are not arresting decent law-abiding citizens who just happen to be carrying a gun.”

Throughout the debate on the bill in the Senate, Senator Schwertner addressed concerns on how guns will stay out of the hands of criminals by often citing that people must pass a background check when purchasing a firearm. 

Texans are only subject to a background check when purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer, as per federal law. However, Texas does not require background checks for private sales like those at gun shows. A federal law would allow Texas to require background checks for private sales, but the state has opted out of doing so.

Republicans in the House and party leaders were worried that the changes made by the Senate to address concerns would weaken the bill. Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West has been a vocal supporter of permitless carry and HB 1927. In an address to supporters on YouTube, West characterized the amendments passed by the Senate, aimed at easing law enforcement concerns, as a “poison pill” to the bill and cast blame at Lt. Governor Patrick.

The Republican Party of Texas 2020 platform included language supporting constitutional carry and other measures such as national reciprocity and exempting firearms made or sold within the state from federal regulations. 

Over half of Texans do not support permitless carry, according to a University of Texas/ Texas Tribune poll. Even among Republicans, the debate is close with 56% in support and 39% against. Disagreement among Texas Republicans is largely driven by a gender divide. Forty-nine percent of Republican women say they do not support permitless carry, with 70% of Republican men in support.

If Texans do not want permitless carry and Republicans are split on the issue, why push permitless carry this session?

Joshua Blank, director of research for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas and one of the authors of the poll, said in an interview that “during this legislative session, a lot of the bills that have received the most attention are bills that would satisfy the preferences of a narrow, but important constituency within the Republican Party here in Texas.” 

Legislative acts like HB 1927, which only a session ago would have died a quick death before receiving a vote, are now seen as priorities. Blank argues this is a political calculation from Republican legislators who hope to fight off challengers in the 2022 primary election. 

“Republicans have won elections here for the last two decades plus and it's hard to continually win elections and not advance the policy preferences of some of your most committed rank and file voters,” said Blank.     

Governor Abbott's action comes days after a mass shooting took place on Austin’s 6th Street that left 13 injured and one dead.  Since 2017, Texas has had four high-profile mass shootings in the state, including one at an El Paso Walmart and in the halls of a South Texas High School.

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