Continuing down the path of loosening limits on Texas gun owners, a divided state Senate approved legislation Wednesday to allow holstered handguns to be carried in public, openly or concealed, without a state-issued permit known as a license to carry.

House Bill 1927 next returns to the Texas House to consider changes that senators made during almost seven hours of debate, including GOP amendments designed to win support from a handful of reluctant Republicans who, as of last week, were unsure about whether to support the bill.

One of those amendments would create stiffer penalties for illegal weapons carried by felons and those convicted of family violence offenses. Another change removed House language that banned law officers from questioning somebody based solely on their possession of a handgun.

Those and other changes — plus vigorous pressure applied by gun owners and GOP leaders — did the trick, as all 18 Senate Republicans supported HB 1927.

All 13 Democrats were opposed, including many who delivered passionate criticism about a bill they said would make it harder for police to tell legal gun owners from criminals, Several called the change short-sighted by eliminating the need to obtain a license to carry, which requires a criminal background check, training in safety and gun laws and demonstrated proficiency in firearm use.

“I hope to God that what we do today does not result in a mistake that will have horrible consequences,” said Sen. Jose Menéndez, D-San Antonio. “I urge you to oppose this bill, which I believe will do more harm than good.”

Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who shepherded the bill through the Senate, disagreed.

“To me, this bill is about two things — the advancement of self-defense and the belief in, and trust of, law-abiding citizens to avail themselves of their Second Amendment right to self-defend by carrying a sidearm that is holstered, on their body, in public,” Schwertner said. “It’s not radical.”

A license to carry will still be available to Texans who want to be able to carry guns in other states that have reciprocity agreements with Texas. License holders also do not need to have a background check when purchasing guns from a store.

The Senate devoted almost all of Wednesday to HB 1927.

During the debate, Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, noted that most Texans oppose permitless carry, according to a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll that found 48% strongly oppose and 11% somewhat oppose the concept.

“Given there is overwhelming opposition to this issue, why push this through?” she asked.

“It’s a simple concept of restoring a right to not just keep but to bear arms, without the requirement of a state license, for self-defense,” Schwertner replied, adding that criminal background checks will still be required to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer.

Several Democrats responded by saying background checks are not needed when guns are sold person-to-person, at gun shows and over the internet.

The criminal background check needed to obtain a license to carry gives police assurance that an armed permit holder is not dangerous, said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

“You keep referring to your law-abiding citizens. Let me ask you, what does a law-abiding citizen look like?” Whitmire said. “It’s not just going to be law-abiding citizens that hear about your law and take advantage of it.”

Schwertner said permitless carry was the next logical step in the progression of expanded gun rights that started with concealed carry with a permit in 1995 and included the right to openly carry a handgun in 2015.

Opponents raised similar dire safety concerns over concealed and open carry, said Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood.

“Every time we’ve increased the rights of people to defend themselves, we have been told it’s going to end up with blood in the streets, running wild,” Hall said. “Yet that has not happened, not one time.”

Republicans rejected, on identical party-line votes, 18 amendments proposed by Democrats, including required background checks for stranger-to-stranger gun sales, incentives to encourage gun owners to promptly report stolen weapons, and allowing counties to opt out of permitless carry, particularly large counties that face heightened safety challenges.

The eight Republican amendments added Wednesday included one to enhance the criminal penalty for a felon in possession of an firearm from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony with a minimum of five years in prison.

Another change stripped out House language that would require business owners to deliver a verbal or written warning telling a gun owner that firearms are not allowed. Instead, businesses and private property owners could ban permitless carry by posting a sign.

Schwertner also added an amendment allowing the Department of Public Safety to develop and provide an online gun-safety course.

The House can accept the changes, sending HB 1927 to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign a permitless carry bill.

If the House disagrees, senators and representatives would form a conference committee to hash out the differences and present a final version of the bill to both houses for approval.

The legislative session ends May 31.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas Senate approves permitless carry of handguns in party-line vote


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