Texas handgun owners would no longer need a license or training to carry their handgun in public under a bill that cleared a major vote in Texas House Friday. The bill is now headed to the Senate.
House Bill 1927 passed with 87 in support and 58 against Friday following a marathon debate Thursday. The bill allows "permitless carry" for all Texans who are legally allowed to own a firearm. Getting a license would be an option.
State Rep. Matt Schaefer (District 6, R-Tyler) backed the bill. The bill preliminarily passed on Thursday with a vote of 84-56 along mostly party lines.
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“This bill should be called common sense carry because this bill is about common law-abiding citizens being able to carry commonly owned handguns in common public places for the common reason of personal and family protection. Under this bill, people who are prohibited from possessing a handgun will still be prohibited from possessing a handgun. Sensitive places where the unlicensed carry of a handgun is prohibited will still be prohibited. But if you are a law-abiding citizen age 21 or older that can legally possess a handgun you will be able to carry that handgun in a holster in public places where it is not otherwise prohibited,” Rep. Schaefer said.
The timing of the GOP-led House passing the bill now -- after years of stalled efforts -- angered opponents whose chances for tightening gun laws after the Walmart shooting that killed 23 people are fading.
Democrats railed against loosening gun laws after the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart. Texas lawmakers did not meet in 2020, making this the first year gun-control bills have been filed since the attack.
The measure has drawn opposition from Texas police chiefs, as well as some firearm instructors who run licensing courses, who critics say have a financial incentive to oppose the change. Obtaining a handgun license in Texas costs between $100 and $150, according to Schaeffer, and applicants must also go through criminal history and background checks.
“Members, there are many things that are wrong with our gun laws, but in my opinion, at least one thing that is not wrong with them is our current system of permitting for carrying a handgun, and one reason that system works is the training requirement that exists, and another reason, in my view, is that there is, in essence, a background check if you will. Before you get your license, you have to meet certain eligibility criteria,” said State Rep. John Turner (District 114, D-Dallas).
Chief Jeff Spivey with the Irving Police Dept. called the bill "bad legislation" in an interview with NBC 5 on Friday hours after it passed the Texas House.
"There are safety issues and responsibility that go along with carrying a firearm. If you’re just going to allow anyone and everyone to have that opportunity, to walk around in public without any training, without any demonstrable abilities to use a firearm, to know when they can and can’t use a firearm, I think you’re creating an opportunity to have something bad happen to someone," Chief Spivey said.
This issue has come up in past sessions but has not passed. Earlier this week, law enforcement lined up against it, while Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West spoke in favor of it.
A press conference hosted by West was held at Texas Gun Experience, where marketing manager Bryan Rastok said they support the measure. However, Rastok said they also support and encourage training, especially for new gun owners.
"I do think it’s upon us as trainers and the facilities that offer training to maybe transition a bit to "how do we reach that customer? How do we educate them to say training is important?", Rastok said. "We’re not twisting your arm or anything like that, but these are the reasons why. If you’re going to carry, it’s good to understand the laws because you are responsible for anything that happens involving that firearm."
The bill now goes to the Senate, before going to the governor's desk for a signature. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has been silent amid calls for gun control and did not mention the El Paso shooting while laying out his legislative priorities in February.
Texas has more than 1.6 million licensed handgun owners. If approved, Texas would become by far the largest of roughly 20 states that already allow handgun owners to carry their weapons in public without a permit.