Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to date with the most essential news from Texas.
A new state law will soon allow most Texans to carry handguns in public without training or licensing. Governor Greg Abbott hailed the so-called “constitutional porting” legislation and other gun 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 signing of the bill in June. “But today I signed documents that instilled freedom in the Lone Star State.”
But some Texas law enforcement officers worry that removing restrictions on the carrying of handguns could increase the crime rate while putting officers and residents at risk.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a sense of disappointment that the bill finally passed,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association.
Conservative activists have long pushed for unlicensed transportation legislation in Texas, but such measures have had little success in the previous three legislative sessions. In 2019, a no-permit deferral bill didn’t even make it to a committee at Texas House.
When lawmakers relented in the 2021 regular legislative session in January — the first since back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa — some lawmakers expected to pass substantive gun restrictions.
After all, Abbott had proposed several policies to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he was “ready to take an arrow” from the National Rifle Association to pursue tougher background check laws.
Instead, the Texas legislature moved the other way.
Proponents of the no-permit postponement said a House leadership reshuffle and the growing number of states with similar laws meant this year was their best chance to pass a bill. The Senate and House passed different versions of the 1927 House Bill, but agreed to a negotiated bill in May. The House approved the final version 82-62.
It was part of a series of pro-gun laws lawmakers passed this year. Other measures passed include a bill that would ban government contracts with those who discriminate against the firearms industry as a whole, a bill that would remove gun suppressors from the list of prohibited weapons and a House bill that prohibits states and local governments from enforcing new federal gun regulations.
“Texas is finally a pro-gun state despite years of dragging feet, roadblocks and excuses from a spineless political class,” Chris McNutt, executive director of Texas Gun Rights, said in a statement. released after Abbott signed the bill. “I’m proud of the work gun owners have done to finally get the Texas Constitutional Carry into law.”
None of the five lead authors of HB 1927 responded to requests for comment.
Currently, Texans must generally be allowed to carry handguns, whether open or concealed. To obtain a license, applicants must submit their fingerprints, complete four to six hours of training, and pass a written exam and marksmanship test. This does not apply to guns, which do not require a permit to be carried in public.
The new law – which will come into force on September 1 – will allow anyone 21 or older to carry a handgun in public without the need for a license or training as long as they are not otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm by law, such as those convicted of felony or domestic violence.
Most Texas voters opposed allowing people to carry handguns in public places without a permit or license, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll conducted in April. Although 56% of Republicans supported unlicensed porting, 59% of all voters opposed it.
Texas law enforcement officers have expressed strong opposition to the new law as it progresses through the Legislature.
“I don’t know how that’s a solution,” said James McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Association. “I don’t know what the problem was initially.”
Lawrence, also chairman of the trustees of the Fraternal Order of Police of Texas, said the bill was supported in part because of rising crime rates last year, which has led Texans to fear that the police will not be able to protect them. He also noted that it could have been partly a pushback against calls last year to “defund the police,” a move that aims to cut law enforcement budgets and reallocate funds to social service programs. .
“The whole process was done to appease a certain bloc of voters, to appease a very, very vocal active group that was just asking to be allowed to bear arms,” he said.
Lawmakers added several amendments to the bill to assuage law enforcement concerns, including requiring the Department of Public Safety to offer a free online gun safety training course.
Ray Hunt, executive director of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said the bill could have serious consequences for law enforcement officers, noting that it could be more difficult for them to decipher if a person wearing a weapon is legally able to do so.
His opposition to the bill waned after lawmakers amended it to allay law enforcement concerns about certain provisions, including one that would have prohibited officers from questioning a person based solely on their possession of a handgun.
Hunt and other law enforcement officials hope their fears about the Unlicensed Transportation Act will not come true.
Law enforcement has strongly condemned the 2016 “open carry” law that allows Texans to openly carry handguns in public as long as they have a license. 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 the same arguments we’re saying now,” Hunt said. “And nothing happened, so hopefully we’re overreacting. We’re just worried because every time there are more guns, there’s a problem.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
Join us September 20-25 at the 2021 Texas Tribune Festival. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas in politics, public policy and the news of the day, curated by the award-winning journalists from the Texas Tribune. Learn more.