AUSTIN – One day after a House committee approved a bill that would greatly expand the rights of Texans to openly carry a handgun, both the bill’s author and the chairman of the panel that gave it a thumbs-up said the measure still needs work before it clears its next legislative hurdle.
“This bill is still undergoing an evolutionary process and I’m doing a lot of listening,” said state Rep. James White, an East Texas Republican who steered House Bill 1191 through the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
White’s bill would allow Texans 21 and older who are legally eligible to purchase a handgun to carry it either openly or concealed without having to obtain a state-issued license and go through the background checks required in current state law.
It also would eliminate the provision forbidding guns in places of worship, but would not limit the right of such a place to post a sign saying that guns are not allowed on the premises.
The measure does not go as far as the so-called constitutional carry legislation that remains stuck in committee, but basically would assume that all law-abiding citizens have a right to carry a handgun under the protections spelled out in the Second Amendment.
Several Texas law enforcement agencies and employee organizations have registered their firm opposition to allowing unlicensed people to carry handguns, saying it would make the jobs of officers more difficult and potentially aggravate already dangerous situations. The Texas Association of Business and several organizations calling for more restrictions on handguns also oppose both White’s bill and the constitutional-carry measure
State Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican who chairs the committee that advanced H.B. 1191, said he still has reservations but wants to work with White to alleviate the concerns of law enforcement professionals and others.
King, a former police officer in Fort Worth said the law the Legislature enacted two years ago that allows license holders to carry handguns openly “is just fine the way it is.” But if lawmakers want to expand open carry, the bill that cleared committee still needs some fine-tuning before he’d be fully comfortable with that, too.
“One of the things that I’d like to see us do is remove some of the barriers to getting a license, particularly the fee,” King said.
Presently, the cost of a license to carry a handgun is $140 for five years. The Senate has already passed legislation to lower that to $40, and a similar measure is moving on the House side
Expanding gun rights has been a staple of the Legislature going back several years. In 2015, as part of the effort to allow licensed handgun owners to carry openly and to allow guns on public college campuses, an effort was also made to pass constitutional carry.
Although the effort failed, proponents of the idea were emboldened heading into the 2017 session.
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Republican representing part of Tarrant County, said he has amassed some 50,000 petition signatures in support of constitutional carry.
“I have yet to see any other bill muster up the passion and the kind of support that open carry has,” said Stickland, who had dozens of supporters in the Capitol when he presented his bill to King’s committee in March.
But even with that, his measure, House Bill 375, was heard in committee the same day as White’s was, only White’s was voted out.
Stickland has said he will “not water down” his proposal. But White said passing legislation “is the art of the possible.”
Before the bill is ready for a floor vote, White said he hopes to meet with some of the law enforcement organizations that have signed up to oppose it, including the police unions of Dallas and Houston and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
A CLEAT representative said Wednesday that the statewide police union remains opposed.