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Republicans Push to Make Texas a 'Second Amendment Sanctuary State'

Rifle scopes on display inside the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Dallas in May 2018.
Rifle scopes on display inside the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Dallas in May 2018.
Brian Maschino
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Filed earlier this month, a state House bill backed by Gov. Greg Abbott would turn Texas into a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary state. In other words, the bill, if passed, would forbid Texas state agencies and other bodies from enforcing new federal gun laws or rules, a proposal some advocacy groups have criticized.

The bill’s primary author, state Rep. Justin Holland, a Republican from Heath, said HB 2622 comes at a time when it’s necessary to “step up and protect our 2nd Amendment rights in Texas,” according to a press release.

If enacted, the bill seeks to bar any state agency or political subdivision from enforcing new federal gun laws, orders, rules or regulations that do not already exist in Texas law.

One of more than 40 active gun-related bills in the Legislature, it would also block state grant funds to any political subdivision that adopts a new federal statute, order, rule or regulation on firearms. The funds would be denied for the next fiscal year, the bill notes.

“We can’t rely on the Federal Government to lead on this issue and in reality — they will do vastly more harm than good for gun rights,” Holland said in the news release. “The State of Texas is now and forever shall be a place of refuge for the 2nd Amendment and our ability to protect ourselves, our families, homes and businesses.”

Abbott, who has promoted the idea of a Second Amendment sanctuary state before, threw his weight behind HB 2622. “We have a duty to keep Texas the freedom capital of America, and that includes defending Texans’ Second Amendment rights,” Abbott said in the news release.

Abbott said the bill, along with others like it, could “build a barrier that will stop the federal government from treading on gun rights in Texas.”

During his State of the State address in February, Abbott said he intended to make Texas a Second Amendment sanctuary state.

State Rep. Steve Toth, a Republican from the Woodlands, introduced a similar bill, HB 112, earlier this year. In effect, that bill would bar law enforcement from enforcing any federal gun law that is stricter than the state’s laws.

In January 2020, The Texan reported that nearly 50 counties statewide, including several in North Texas, had passed pro-gun resolutions and declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuary counties.

Second Amendment sanctuaries have popped up in at least 25 states around the U.S., according to Brady United, a gun control advocacy group. The organization described the moves as "clear backlash" by the gun lobby to push back against "recent gun reform wins."

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence's Andrew Patrick says Second Amendment sanctuary efforts usually happen on the county and city levels.

The movement attracted national headlines in late 2019, when several counties across Virginia declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries.

Patrick described the trend as "essentially a 'come-and-take-it' flag in legislative form," saying it's "about ignoring laws they don't like.

"It's a dangerous road to say we're just going to ignore a federal law," he told the Observer, "because where does that stop?"

Texas has a long history of gun-friendly laws, and last year, the website Zippia ranked it the third most gun-friendly state in the country. Meanwhile, Texas also ranked third for the most mass shootings between 1980 and February 2020, according to a study by the website Statista.

In fact, Texas was home to four of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. between 1949 and 2019, CNN reported after a gunman shot and killed 23 people in an El Paso Wal-Mart in August 2019.

That same year, the state recorded a total of 3,683 gun-related deaths, the highest number of any state, according to data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected.

Ed Scruggs, a board member of Texas Gun Sense, a nonprofit group that advocates for policies to reduce gun violence, said, "El Paso was the worst hate crime aimed specifically at Latinx Americans and immigrants in modern American history. The state is not going to escape that."

Although Scruggs sees the Second Amendment sanctuary calls as "more of a political statement," he cautioned that "you can never write a pro-gun bill off" in Texas.

"They can't deny it forever," Scruggs added. "They need to think of taking some good common sense steps that still respect Second Amendment rights of Texans but make us safer."

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills designed to impose tighter restrictions by broadening background checks. One of those bills, HR 8, received eight Republican votes.

In Texas, however, gun rights groups have celebrated the current state Legislature, describing it as more gun-friendly than previous ones.

Texas Gun Rights didn't reply to the Observer's request for comment, but the advocacy group said in a recent press release that it had high hopes Texas state legislators would legalize "constitutional carry," a term that refers to carrying a weapon without a permit.

"Unlike in previous years – where anti-gun Democrats were in charge of key committees in the Texas House – the committees in Austin look promising for passing Constitutional Carry in 2021," the statement read.

But even as Texas Republicans push pro-gun bills, several state legislators have introduced gun-restriction legislation.

In January, state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, a Democrat from Austin, filed Senate Bill 311, which would make it a criminal act to display a firearm within 500 feet of a protest. Last week, that bill was referred Senate State Affairs Committee.

State Rep. Lina Ortega, a Democrat from El Paso, filed several gun reform bills last November, on the first day legislators could file for the current legislative session.

One of Ortega's bills, HB 118, would require background checks for private sales and transfers of firearms in the state. Another, HB 127, would bar people from open carrying assault weapons and long guns.

Democratic Reps. Vikki Goodwin and Ron Reynolds have also filed bills that propose tightening the background check system.

Goodwin, who is on the state House's Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, said deadly mass shootings, such as the August 2019 rampages in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, underscore the need for background checks, requiring safe gun storage and a higher level of safety training.

"Instead, we have legislators filing bills to allow election judges to bring their guns to polling locations and to allow people to purchase guns without any type of permit," she told the Observer.

"I hope we can pass some common sense gun safety legislation and show the people of Texas we are serious about public safety. We aren’t going to wait for the next tragedy and then say our thoughts and prayers are with you."

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