In Austin, a season of gun bills has begun in the 2017 legislative session. There are 28 gun bills introduced in the House and the 12 gun bills introduced in the Senate.
They appear on the heels of 2015 victories for gun rights activists, with the passage both of open carry and campus carry in the 2015 legislative session. They also have a supporter in the president of the Texas Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who told reporters in November: “No Texan should be deprived of their right to self-protection because of onerous licensing fees imposed by the state.”
Here are a few of the 40 bills that warrant special attention.
Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Fort Worth area Republican who champions gun rights in Texas, introduced House Bill 375, otherwise known as “constitutional carry” to supporters and “guns everywhere” to opponents.
It’s similar to legislation that Stickland filed in 2015 and seeks to allow Texans the freedom to carry a handgun without a permit, similar to the way they’re allowed to carry most long rifles. The bill would also make concealed-carry handgun-license classes optional instead of required.
“We don’t think people should be charged to invoke their constitutional rights and be required to take a class,” Stickland told the Houston Press in early January. “If we tried to do that with the First Amendment, people would be going insane over it. And I think there are a lot of folks that are in regards to this. Any time you put rules and regulations on anyone, it’s the good guys you’re hurting. Because criminals, they don't obey the laws anyway.”
CJ Grisham and other Open Carry Texas members point out that the 11 other states with constitutional carry have seen no problems. Grisham, who serves as president of Open Carry Texas, told Guns.com, "As predicted, both open and campus carry have been non-issues. There is no reason why law abiding Texans can’t enjoy the same free access to exercise their rights.”
Stickland’s bill, of course, doesn’t ease federal gun law regulations. Texans seeking a gun from a licensed firearm dealer would still need to submit to a background check at their local gun dealers and possibly face denial if they’re a felon, mentally ill or under a certain age.
Gun control advocates argue allowing constitutional carry would be disastrous for Texas and make law enforcement even harder. Some point to the July mass shooting of police officers when Dallas police struggled to identify the shooter because some of the protesters were openly carrying AR15s.
Gun Show Loophole
In Texas, private sellers are not required to conduct federal background checks when they sell a gun in a parking lot or at a gun show. Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, hopes to change it with House Bill 3143, otherwise known as the “gun show loophole” law. The bill seeks to require private sellers at gun shows to conduct federal background checks and keep records of the sale.
Opponents of the bill point out that the state already makes it illegal for people to sell a gun to someone whom they know will use the gun unlawfully or know is a convicted felon. But many private sellers never ask what a person plans to do with a gun. They often ask for a Texas ID, though they’re not even required to ask for identification when they sell a used gun to a private individual.
Opponents of the bill point out that the bill’s definition of gun show isn’t as well defined as they hoped. According to the bill, “‘Gun show’ means a place other than a permanent retail store, including a driveway, sidewalk or walkway, parking lot, or other parking area or an event at which: three or more individuals assemble to display firearms or firearm components to the public; and a fee is charged for the privilege of displaying the firearms or firearm components or a fee is charged for admission to the area where the firearms or components are displayed.”
Anchia points out that curbing the gun show loophole could also curb some of the 13,600 guns found in Mexico that the ATF claim originated from Texas. It would also keep private sellers from selling firearms in Target parking lots. “It’s a vicious cycle,” Anchia told local news outlets. “We send our guns down south, and they send their drugs up north.”
Eliminating Gun Licensing Fees
Gun owners have to pay $140 for a Texas handgun license and $70 to renew it every few years. (Discounts are available for judges, senior citizens, a police officers or veterans.) This revenue adds up, considering that more than a million Texans currently have permits to carry handguns, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, seeks to eliminate the fees to obtain a license to carry a handgun. Senate Bill 16 is similar to legislation filed by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock. It also has the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who told reporters, “Texas currently has one of the highest license to carry fees in the country, and we will fix that.”
Improving Gun Safety
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, introduced a bill to curb some of the license fees if gun owners can prove that they own a locked safe, cabinet or case for gun storage. It doesn’t completely remove the fees like Nichols’ and Burrows’ bills, but does offer an incentive to receive a discount.
The bill would also require the Texas Department of Public Safety to create educational programs teaching people how to secure their guns and safely handle them as if they’re obtaining a license to drive a vehicle. Moody says he’s simply trying to improve gun safety.
Texas Gun Sense, an advocacy group seeking to reduce gun violence with policy, is a big supporter of Moody’s bill. Andrea Brauer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, said at an early December news conference at the Capitol, “We want to address the issue of 3,500 people who are killed or injured by gun violence every year in Texas. It does not have to be a Republican or Democrat issue. We shouldn’t have to choose sides.”
Limiting Open Carry and Campus Carry
Democrats are still seeking a way to curb the open carry law.
In House Bill 466, Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, seeks to give cities with populations of 750,000 and above the ability to vote to end open carry. The bill would also allow businesses to ban firearms simply by displaying a sign with a logo similar to the no smoking logo instead of a wordy sign as the law currently requires.
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Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, filed House Bill 391 to allow public universities the option to opt out of the campus carry law. The current campus carry law, which went into effect in August, only allows private universities the option of disarming their students. A similar bill was defeated by a majority of Republicans in both chambers during the last legislative session.
Howard also seeks to ban guns from state mental health hospitals. Currently, licensed handgun owners in Texas are allowed to carry openly at one of Texas’ 10 state mental health hospitals. This is a part of the open carry laws passed during the 2015 legislative session.
Supporters claim open carry of firearms deters crime and mass shooters. Opponents claim openly carrying firearms disturbs the peace at restaurants and college campuses.
“I think if we just used some common sense, we’d recognize that’s not exactly a place where we should be having weaponry,” Howard said in early December press conference at the Capitol.