Two gun bills that would legalize the open carry of handguns in Texas are on a fast-track in the state Senate.
“I have asked the chair of the committee to schedule these two bills, and the Campus Carry (Senate Bill 11) bill which was referred last week, for a public hearing as soon as possible,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement Monday. ”Over the past week the senators have been working hard to build support and I look forward to working on these 2nd Amendment priorities.”
Senate Bills 342 and 346, by Don Huffines of Dallas and Craig Estes of Wichita Falls respectively, would do away with the Lone Star State’s 125-year old ban on the open carry of handguns, a restriction first put in place after the Civil War so the Reconstruction government could disarm Confederate sympathizers.
Huffines’ bill would allow adults to publicly tote a pistol without a license, while Estes’ bill would require those who wanted to open carry to pass the same criminal background check as those currently seeking a concealed handgun license.
Patrick referred both bills were referred to State Affairs. Joan Huffman, the committee’s newly-appointed chair, is the only one of 20 Republicans in the state Senate who declined to co-sponsor a piece of legislation that would allow concealed handgun permit holders to privately tote their pistols on university grounds.
On Monday, Huffman explained her reasoning behind choosing to keep her name off any of the gun bills that are aheaded to her committee.
“I just thought it would be better as the chairperson for me to not take a position as a joint author on any of the gun legislation,” said Huffman. “I think it’s important that the hearings that are conducted are very fair and open to both sides. I want everyone to have an opportunity to be heard.”
She added she thinks the committee needs to take a hard look at whether to include a provision that would allow campuses – especially private universities – to opt out of any campus carry laws that pass, without appearing “elitist” against Texas’ public colleges. On open carry, Huffman supports requiring Texans to get a license to publicly tote handguns.
“I would tend to support the continuing license that we have, the current structure that we have,” Huffman said, referring to the license Texans are required to get to carry a handgun concealed. As for Patrick’s urging that her committee take up the issue quickly, she said, “we will have early hearings on this. They’ll be lengthy hearings and long days.”
“We’re just getting going and clearly it’s something that we’re going to have to do so I don’t see any reason to put them off,” she added.
Monday’s referral came just days after open carry advocates criticized Patrick for saying open carry wasn’t a high priority this session, and that he didn’t believe it had the legislative support to pass at this time. Less than two days later he clarified and walked back those remarks when he referred the campus carry bill to Huffman’s committee.
Then on Friday, at least three senior Patrick staffers met with Kory Watkins, the leader of one of the most outspoken and controversial open carry groups that is supporting Huffines’ bill and a similar piece of legislation authored by Jonathan Stickland in the House.
“I sent the campus carry bill to the State Affairs Committee for a full public hearing,” Patrick said in a press release last week. “Now that SB 11 has support and is moving towards passage we can focus on other 2nd Amendment issues, including open carry, which I have consistently supported.”
The bill boasts 19 co-sponsors, a super-majority Patrick said “is enough to bring it to the floor for passage.”
More than two dozen gun-related bills have been filed this session. Under current law, Texans can openly carry long guns, like rifles and shotguns.
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