Texas Senate clears open carry bill

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

 

Update (2:59 p.m.): The House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee left bills regarding campus carry and open carry pending in committee Tuesday.

Guests attended a public hearing Tuesday to testify on HB 937 and HB 910, dealing with campus carry and open carry respectively. Following public testimonies, the committee made its ruling to keep the bills pending.

HB 937, if passed, would allow the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses by licensed holders. Private and independent universities could opt out of the policy. Certain areas on campuses, such as grade schools and pre-schools, hospitals, residences halls and sporting events would be exempt from campus carry.

“College and university campuses are not crime free zones….” Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), primary author of the bill, said at the hearing. “The idea that this bill will result in any increase in violence is unfounded.”

HB 910 would allow licensed handgun carriers to openly carry their guns in a belt or shoulder holster.

“While this bill might not go far enough for some and too far for others, it’s a continued step in Texas recognizing citizen rights to self defense,”  Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), Homeland Security and Public Safety chair and primary author of the bill, said.

The Senate gave final approval to a companion version of HB 910, SB 17, Tuesday. The Senate equivalent of the campus carry bill was set to be heard on the Senate floor Tuesday as well, but the discussion was postponed to Wednesday.

Update (1:35 p.m.): The Texas Senate gave final approval to its open carry bill Tuesday.

The bill allows licensed handgun carriers to openly carry guns in a belt holster or shoulder holster. It also gives private business owners the option to refuse service to open carriers, if the business displays the proper signage.

“I’ve been here long enough to know that you don’t win all of your battles…I wish the loss yesterday would be over something…not quite as critical as open carry,” Senate Dean John Whitmire (D-Houston) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement this is the first time an open carry bill has made it past committee and onto the Senate floor.

“We’ve worked tirelessly on the issues that are most important to Texans,” Patrick said.  “I applaud the good work our senators have put forth on making sure our Second Amendment Rights are protected, never ignored and properly enforced.”

To become law, the bill must gain final approval in the house and receive Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature. If made law, open carry with a holster will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2016.

Companion bills in the House are set to be heard in committee Tuesday.

 

Original: The Texas Senate gave initial approval to a bill allowing the open carry of holstered handguns Monday.

SB 17, which Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) authored, was approved by a 2011 vote.  The bill must also pass in the House and obtain Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature to become law. The bill is set to be heard by the Senate again on Tuesday and may receive final Senate approval.

Current state law allows for the concealed carry of handguns, but certain rifles and longneck firearms may be carried openly. 

If the bill were to become law, the state concealed handgun license would simply become a handgun license, removing the concealed carry requirement, Estes said at the hearing. Licensed carriers could display their handguns in public as long as they used a shoulder or belt holster.

Texans will be required to pass training, criminal background and mental health checks before they are able to obtain a handgun license. Businesses with appropriate signage would maintain the ability to refuse service to those carrying handguns.

During a four-hour debate, lawmakers considered nearly two dozen amendments to the bill. Three amenendments were accepted, including one that changes the implementation date to Jan. 1, 2016 and one to provide training on properly securing holstered handguns.

Another accepted amendment, which Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) proposed, prevents open carry at private, independent and public higher education institutions. 

Huffman said she supports Second Amendment rights but wants to prevent open carry on college campuses, regardless of whether the campus carry bill passes. The Senate will hear the campus carry bill Tuesday.

Concealed handgun license holders can already carry guns openly on public areas of campuses such as sidewalks.

“I believe [licensed gun carriers 21 year olds and above] will be able to be responsible on a college campus, but I am sensitive to the concerns of parents and others who would feel uncomfortable with the open display of a weapon on a college campus," Huffman said.

Concerns expressed by opponents of open carry included the accessibility of the handguns for theft or crime, if they were to be stolen from the carrier, as well as police opposition and its implementation in cities versus small towns.

Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) said he thinks the bill could have unsuspected consequences, including a risk to law enforcement officers. He said that when officers arrive on the scene and multiple people there are carrying guns openly, it could make it hard to identify the criminal.

“[Police officers] have literally told me that when they pull up they will not know what to do,” Whitmire said.

According to Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), the Texas Police Chief Association conducted a survey about police chief support for open carry. He said 207 chiefs of the 285 surveyed were against the open carry of handguns.

Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) said she thinks open carry will not be successful in large cities, such as Houston, where there are larger crowds and higher crime rates.

“When you’re in a big city it’s a different arena. … I just cannot imagine walking in anywhere where there is a gun openly carried,” Garcia said.

The House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee is set to hear bills, identical to their Senate counterparts, regarding campus carry and open carry Tuesday morning.