Two li­cense-free gun bills draw crowd to Capi­tol,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com Con­tact Chuck Lin­dell at 512-912-2569. Twit­ter: @chuck­lin­dell

More than 100 peo­ple signed up Tuesday to speak on two bills that would al­low le­gal gun own­ers to carry hand­guns, ei­ther con­cealed or in a hol­ster, with­out hav­ing to first ac­quire a state-is­sued li­cense in Texas.

All were drawn to the first-ever Capi­tol hear­ing granted to a bill that would al­low li­cense-free “con­sti­tu­tional carry” — a top pri­or­ity for the Repub­li­can Party of Texas and the next step for gun-rights ad­vo­cates one ses­sion af­ter the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved openly car­ried hand­guns, as well as con­cealed firearms in most build­ings on public univer­sity cam­puses, by those with a li­cense to carry.

“This is a big day for many Tex­ans,” state Rep. Jonathan Stick­land, R-Bed­ford, said about the hear­ing of the House Home­land Se­cu­rity and Public Safety Com­mit­tee on House Bill 375, which he said would “see our Sec­ond Amend­ment rights re­stored, re­spected and pro­tected.”

Stick­land and many of the gun-rights ac­tivists who tes­ti­fied in fa­vor of HB 375 said gov­ern­ment per­mis­sion should not be re­quired — for a fee — to ex­er­cise the con­sti­tu­tional right to bear arms.

“I don’t think the gov­ern­ment has the right to sell us back our rights,” Stick­land told the com­mit­tee.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Com­bined Law En­force­ment As­so­ci­a­tions of Texas, Dal­las County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Hous­ton Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo tes­ti­fied that con­sti­tu­tional carry would in­ter­fere with the abil­ity of po­lice of­fi­cers to do their jobs, par­tic­u­larly in iden­ti­fy­ing and deal­ing with armed crim­i­nals.

“As writ­ten, it makes an al­ready chal­leng­ing pro­fes­sion more chal­leng­ing,” said Hous­ton Po­lice Lt. Jessica An­der­son.

Other op­po­nents said HB 375 would ex­pand the right to carry con­cealed hand­guns on col­lege cam­puses to many more stu­dents by al­low­ing those 18 and older to carry a firearm. Cur­rent law lim­its cam­pus carry to those with a li­cense to carry, which is gen­er­ally avail­able only to those 21 and older.

Sev­eral op­po­nents ques­tioned the wis­dom of al­low­ing more stu­dents to carry guns in a high-stress en­vi­ron­ment where ex­ces­sive al­co­hol con­sump­tion is com­mon.

Other op­po­nents feared los­ing the firearms train­ing course and back­ground check that comes with ac­quir­ing a li­cense to carry.

CJ Gr­isham with Open Carry Texas dis­missed the ar­gu­ments from law en­force­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, say­ing they pre­dicted wide­spread prob­lems when the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved con­cealed carry in 1995 and open carry in 2015.

“They have zero cred­i­bil­ity. They’ve been wrong ev­ery time,” Gr­isham said.

Other sup­port­ers said the $140 fee for a li­cense to carry im­prop­erly limited the abil­ity of low-income peo­ple to de­fend them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

At one point, state Rep. Jarvis John­son, D-Hous­ton, in­ter­rupted tes­ti­mony, not­ing that sev­eral white sup­port­ers of HB 375 had equated the need to get a li­cense to carry with slav­ery.

“Slaves didn’t have free­doms or rights, so I take it as an in­sult, you try­ing to com­pare your con­sti­tu­tional right to carry a gun to in­vol­un­tary slav­ery,” said John­son, who is black.

Tuesday’s com­mit­tee hear­ing also in­cluded late public tes­ti­mony on HB 1911 by state Rep. James White, R-Hil­lis­ter. Though sim­i­lar to Stick­land’s mea­sure, White’s bill as filed would not ap­ply to those 18 to 20 years old.

A com­mit­tee vote on ei­ther bill was not ex­pected Tuesday.

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

CJ Gr­ish­man, pres­i­dent of Open Carry Texas, lis­tens at the Home­land Se­cu­rity & Public Safety Com­mit­tee hear­ing about the Con­sti­tu­tional Carry bill, HB 375, at the Capi­tol on Tuesday.

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