Tom DeLay is fighting to get his gun back after his concealed carry license was suspended due to his felony indictment.
Under a Texas law passed in 1995, a license may be suspended if the holder is charged with a Class A or Class B misdemeanor or indicted on felony charges.
The author of the original bill, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who was a state senator, said the section of law calling for suspension of licenses of people under indictment should probably be removed from the statute.
“It is clearly not rational, not called for, but it was one of those things we did to make somebody say, ‘OK, I’ll vote for it,’ ” Patterson said Monday.
Patterson said several provisions were put in the bill by backers in order to garner support from other lawmakers who were leery about the law.
Patterson said since the bill’s passage more than a decade ago, legislators have amended the statute and removed some of the parts he called “onerous.”
“There is a presumption of innocence. Would we take away his First Amendment right to free speech?” Patterson said.
I’m always amused at how the git-tuff-on-crime crowd can find religion on the subject of presumed innocence when one of their own is on the court docket. Perhaps DeLay can make felony indictees’ rights his new crusade if he survives his reelection fight in November.
Out of curiosity, I surfed through the Chronicle archives to see if there were any news reports about this particular provision of the law from the 1995 legislative session when it was adopted. There may have been some heartburn about suspending licenses for indicted felons behind the scenes, but I couldn’t find anything about it in the actual news stories. Here’s how the bill appeared as it passed out of the Senate committee.
The proposed law would allow adults who have never been convicted of a felony or are not facing criminal charges to apply to the Texas Department of Public Safety for a permit to carry a handgun every day.
They would have to submit to criminal background checks and take handgun proficiency training in courses developed by the DPS.
That’s about the only mention of “not facing criminal charges” – i.e., not being under indictment like a certain former House Majority Leader – that I found. And that’s not because the bill passed quietly and uncontroversially. Beyond the expected opposition, some other aspects of this bill caused a stir. For example, the list of exceptions to where you could carry a concealed handgun, and the fight over limiting background checks – Patterson is quoted in one article that he “doesn’t want to let the criminals know” who might be packing heat.
To be eligible, a person must be at least 21, of sound mind, free of felony convictions and have no history of substance abuse. An applicant must also have no convictions for a Class A or B misdemeanor in the preceding five years or a Class C misdemeanor for simple assault. They also cannot ever have been convicted of a Class A or B misdemeanor involving the use of a handgun.
No mention of being under a felony indictment, though that provision was either there all along or added back when its final version was passed in the Senate. All I’m saying here is that this particular provision could not have been that controversial.
Now having said that, I agree with Commissioner Patterson that a blanket ban like that serves no rational purpose. Suspending a CCL as a condition of bail makes sense, but let’s be honest: Tom DeLay is no less a menace to public safety without his gun than he normally is. The law is what it is, however, and I see no reason why he should get any special treatment. If there’s a reason permitted in the statute to un-suspend his license before his trial then fine, but if not, let him act like any other aggrieved citizen and petition his State Rep to change the existing law.