Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Sheriff’s Association of Texas

Might permitless carry actually fail?

I don’t want to allow myself to hope, but there are some sticking points, and apparently some hard lines being drawn.

Both the Texas House and Senate have agreed in large part to the concept of so-called “constitutional carry” legislation to allow most Texans to carry a handgun without a permit.

But there has been a split in the two chambers over amendments added into the bill by the Senate to ease opposition from law enforcement groups and win more support from lawmakers.

“We are so close to getting this done,” said Andi Turner, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association.

While the differences have yet to be settled, Turner said his group is “fully behind” the legislation and is encouraging its members to talk to lawmakers to get the bill to the finish line.

None of the changes has diminished the fierce opposition to House Bill 1927 from most Democrats and gun control advocacy groups who have been largely powerless in stopping the bill so far. Many in law enforcement also continue to oppose the bill.

“The Texas Police Chiefs Association remains strongly opposed to the unlicensed carry of handguns,” a letter from the group to lawmakers stated.

But which of the Senate amendments are causing the most trouble in GOP circles is largely a mystery given the debate over it in conference committee is happening in closed-door sessions away from public view.

See here and here for some background. As a reminder, law enforcement really doesn’t like permitless carry, though at least one law enforcement group gave a blessing to the Senate version with the amendments that this story details. The Republicans have positioned themselves as all in on backing the blue, which makes their (mostly in the House) intransigence on these law enforcement-desired amendments both puzzling and more than a little dicey for them. Of course, they also have the gun lobby to satisfy, so that’s a problem for them.

Also a problem: We are now at the time of the season when the House and the Senate hate each other.

With time dwindling on the legislative session, the Texas House is breaking until Sunday, in an attempt to send the Senate a clear message: Pass our priority bills or see your own legislation die slowly in our chamber.

House lawmakers expressed frustration on Thursday that some of their priority legislation had not moved in the upper chamber, including a package of health care and criminal justice reform bills pushed by House Speaker Dade Phelan.

“If the [Texas] Senate wants to kill or sit on important bills sent over by the House, they can expect the same in return. Starting today,” Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, tweeted Thursday morning. “As a wise House colleague once said, ‘The Senate can respect us. Or expect us.’”

The House is approaching tight deadlines, starting this Sunday, for moving forward Senate bills. But in a surprise move, the House recessed on Thursday despite having already set its agenda, or calendar, for both Friday and Saturday. Bills that were scheduled for those days will be picked up when the House reconvenes Sunday afternoon, but by recessing early with less than two weeks left in the session, House lawmakers have placed many of the Senate’s remaining bills in danger of not passing.

The deadline to set Senate bills on the House daily calendar is Sunday by 10 p.m. All Senate bills, except those on what’s known as the “local and consent calendar” — reserved for bills that aren’t expected to generate debate — must receive initial approval from the House by the end of Tuesday.

Several of the Senate’s priority bills still need the House’s approval, including that chamber’s response to massive power outages in the state this winter, and bills that would restrict transgender student athletes to playing on school sports teams based on their biological sex instead of their gender identity and require any professional sports team with contracts with the state government to play the national anthem before the start of a game.

There are some decent bills that have died in the Senate, and some bills that started out well but were then made less good by the Senate. And then there’s trash like the anti-trans sports bill. The legislative grim reaper isn’t particularly discerning, but on balance, and especially this session, the chaos and dysfunction mostly work in our favor. Failure is always an option, guys. I’ll believe it when I see it with permitless carry, but I sure want to believe it.

House rejects Senate changes to permitless carry bill

Off to conference committee they go.

The Texas House on Wednesday rejected changes the Senate made to a Republican-backed proposal to allow Texans to carry handguns without a license, sending the bill behind closed doors for further negotiations.

Before the permitless carry bill can head to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he would sign it into law, a conference committee made up of representatives and senators will have to reach a compromise that must get approval from both chambers.

House Bill 1927 would nix the requirement for Texas residents to obtain a license to carry handguns if they’re not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a gun.

Among other changes, state senators last week approved an amendment barring permitless carry from people convicted in the past five years of making a terroristic threat, deadly conduct, assault that causes bodily injury or disorderly conduct with a firearm. The chamber also approved an amendment that enhances criminal penalties for illegal weapons carried by felons and those convicted of family violence offenses.

See here for the previous update. Those changes, which were enough to make the bill palatable to the Sheriff’s Association of Texas – most of law enforcement, as well as popular opinion, remains opposed – were a bridge too far for the House. Best case scenario, there is no acceptable compromise for the two chambers. I wouldn’t bet my own money on that outcome, but you can certainly root for it to happen. You can also root for Allen West and Dan Patrick to continue saying mean things to each other, because that gives us all life. The Chron has more.

Permitless carry passes the Senate

We didn’t really think this was going to fail, did we?

The Republican-led effort to allow Texans to carry handguns without any kind of license cleared what is likely its biggest remaining hurdle in the Capitol on Wednesday, when the Texas Senate moved in a nail-biter vote to bring the measure to the floor and then gave it approval.

The measure – already passed by the Texas House – heads to a conference committee for the two chambers to hash out their differences, unless the House accepts the Senate amendments. Then the bill heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who said last week he would sign the permitless carry bill into law.

House Bill 1927 would nix the requirement for Texas residents to obtain a license to carry handguns if they’re not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a gun. The Senate approved the bill in a 18-13 vote, less than a week after it sailed out of a committee created to specifically to tackle the legislation.

[…]

The bill’s fate remained uncertain heading into debate on Wednesday morning and led to a rare case of the GOP-controlled Senate taking up a bill with unclear odds at passage. Ultimately, every Republican supported the bill, but a handful of key senators admitted in debate that they reservations about certain provisions — namely a lack of support from law enforcement.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans who were initially noncommittal had been under immense political pressure from conservatives and gun rights advocates, who have for years lobbied the Texas Legislature for permitless carry but historically struggled to win support.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, told colleagues she was worried about protecting domestic violence victims.

“I have struggled with this, and I am a strong, strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Nelson said Wednesday before voting in favor of the bill.

Leaders in both chambers previously held permitless carry at arm’s length, but the cause quickly gained momentum this year in the House, adding pressure to the Senate.

Patrick has expressed reservations about permitless carry in the past. Ahead of the 2015 session, he said he did not think there was enough support among lawmakers or the public, a sentiment he reiterated in 2017 while citing law enforcement concerns with “anyone being able to walk down the street with a gun and they don’t know if they have a permit or not.”

A solid majority of Texas voters don’t think permitless carry should be allowed, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

See here and here for the background. This played out more or less as I thought it would – there were a few amendments added to make this slightly less hostile to law enforcement, and as a result the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas shrugged its shoulders and said “sure, fine, whatever”. I suppose it’s possible the House will refuse to budge on this, and no deal that is acceptable to the Senate comes out of the conference committee, but I have a hard time believing they’d come this far and not push it across the finish line. And yes, public polls are solidly against this legislation. Do I need to say again what that means? The one thing we get out of this is absolute clarity on a campaign issue. We better use it well.

How ready is Texas law enforcement for open carry?

Hard to say. But we’ll begin to find out soon enough.

Texas law enforcement has also been pretty vocal about their concerns with open carry. They are, after all, the group who’ll have to deal with most of the potential fallout of the new law in the upcoming months. While a majority of police chiefs have expressed a general opposition to the law (75 percent, according to a survey in February) , they were most vocal in May when a provision was added that would prevent police officers from stopping people solely because they were openly carrying a gun. By then, the passing of open carry seemed inevitable, so even Democrats who were originally opposed to the law supported the provision in hopes that it would help prevent the targeting of people of color openly carrying handguns.

“What’s going to happen is more interaction between police and black and brown and poor people because of lawful activity,” Rep. Harold Dutton told KXAN.

The provision made some sense, especially considering issues of racial profiling among Texas state troopers, but it was flawed. In May, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference that the provision would “handcuff” police officers and prevent them from doing their jobs. He was accompanied by members of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, the Sheriff’s Association of Texas, and police unions from Houston and Dallas.

[…]

Experts predict that open carry will most likely take place in small numbers in rural areas, but unlike Oklahoma, six of the most populous cities in the country are in Texas: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and El Paso. And that’s not taking into account the political climate around gun control in Texas this year. There have been number of demonstrators openly carrying rifles in large cities, the most recent being a group of armed protestors in front of a mosque in Irving and demonstrators who marched with rifles near UT-Austin and later held a mock mass shooting to protest “gun-free zones.” It’s still unclear why they felt the need to protest what would soon be law.

But one of the biggest concerns of law enforcement is establishing the fine line between respecting the rights of someone legally carrying a handgun and protecting the general public. “What happens when an officer sees someone openly carrying a handgun in a holster, in accordance with the law, what can an officer legally do?” Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, told the Houston Chronicle. “We keep getting more questions than answers.”

The fear is that open carry will make it harder for police officers to tell the difference between a law-abiding citizen legally carrying a gun and someone with criminal intentions carrying a gun. In the Houston Chronicle, comments like these from Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, don’t really help to clarify things.

Houston police, he said, will not “be doing random stops of people simply to see if they have a CHL,” but they also will not “sit back for 30 minutes” if they have a reasonable suspicion to stop someone.

So, what will they do?

Click over and see. I think open carry is bad policy, but I also think it will have a relatively minimal effect. You have to have a concealed carry license in order to be able to carry openly, and it was already legal before now for any yahoo with a cheap Soldier of Fortune fantasy to carry any manner of rifle around in public, as we have seen over and over again. It’s the interaction between law enforcement and those who will be openly carrying that is hard to predict. If I had a CHL, I’d probably continue to carry my weapon in a concealed fashion, because who needs the hassle? But then I’m not the type of person who likes to invite trouble to make a point. The other questions involve where people can carry, and how many lawsuits are going to be filed because someone disagreed with someone else’s interpretation of that, and also with how businesses will cater to those who want to carry and those who want to not be around people who carry. I won’t be surprised if that first issue, for this and for campus carry, is revisited in 2017.