Two license-free gun bills draw crowd to Capitol,
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.
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.