Suzanna Gratia Hupp has always prided herself on being a law-abiding citizen, but she regrets that she obeyed what was then Texas law on Oct. 16, 1991.
That was the day a man crashed a pickup through the plate-glass window of a Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen while she and her parents were eating lunch. The man stepped out of the truck, pulled out a pistol and opened fire. Among the 23 dead were her parents, Al and Ursula Gratia.
Hupp, then 32, reached for her purse where she kept a handgun for self-protection. The killer was about 15 feet away.
“Then I realized that I had made the stupidest mistake of my life,” she recalled nearly 28 years later. “My gun was out in my car in the parking lot, completely useless to me. A few months earlier, I had chosen to obey the law and leave my gun in the car in case I broke down on a back road somewhere. When the realization sunk in, I thought, ‘Great. What do I do now?’ ”
Hupp’s father was shot as he attempted to charge the gunman, she said. Then someone smashed a window, creating an escape route. Hupp said she told her mother to follow her to the window, not realizing that her mother was mortally wounded.
What Hupp did next was become a gun-rights activist and later a state legislator. And her story helped shape public opinion at the time that Texas needed a law that allows law-abiding people to carry concealed handguns.
Today, Texas has some of the most permissive gun laws in the nation. But that was not always the case.
Here’s a look at the evolution of state policy on firearms:
Ann Richard vetoes concealed carry
It was 1993 and Ann Richards was the governor. A conceal-carry bill passed through the Texas Legislature, but Richards, a Democrat, wasn’t in favor of the measure.
She opted for the politically dangerous move and vetoed the measure, House Bill 1776, authored by state Reps. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, and Bill Carter, R-Fort Worth, and sponsored in the Senate by Pasadena Republican Jerry Patterson.
All have since left public office, and Carter died in 2018. Richards died in 2006.
The measure would have placed a nonbinding referendum on the November ballot on whether the Texas Department of Public Safety should adopt rules for the issuance of licenses to carry handguns.
George W. Bush defeated her in the 1994 election and the “Ann Richard Rule” that one should never veto gun bills was born.
In rejecting the legislation, Richards cited taxpayer expenses and said the law “promotes violence on our streets and in our neighborhoods.”
“I cannot in good conscious waste taxpayer money to conduct a public opinion poll that will accomplish nothing and diverts our attention from real issues of crime such as drug abuse and prison over crowding,” she wrote in her veto proclamation.
Concealed carry signed into law
In 1995, Gov. George W. Bush made it legal for Texans to carry a concealed gun when he signed a measure that went further than the one vetoed by Richards.
“This is a bill to make Texas a safer place,” Bush said in a May 1995 report from The Associated Press.
The 1995 law, Senate bill 60, carried by the same legislators who pushed the 1993 measure, did not require voters to weigh in and made it so residents older than 21 could get permits and carry pistols if they get 10-15 hours of training and complete a proficiency exam.
People not permitted to carry a firearm under the law included those with criminal charges or prior convictions, those with outstanding child support and those of “unsound mind.”
University students engage in campus carry debate
In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law permitting the carrying of a concealed handgun on university campuses. Private institutions may opt out of the measure if they choose.
There are some areas where guns are still banned, such as sports arenas and on-campus day care facilities.
The law applies to those with a concealed handgun license. To obtain a license to carry, the applicant must be at least 21 years old.
The controversial proposed law spurred discussion on many college campuses, including at the University of Texas at Austin where many students could be seen walking around with sex toys in protest of the measure as part of the an anti-guns demonstration.
In 2017, campus carry was expanded to include community colleges.
From concealed carry to open carry
As long as they keep their handguns in a hip or shoulder holster, licensed gun owners can openly carry under another measure signed by Abbott in 2015.
Texans already could openly carry long guns in the state.
“There is nothing more important in democracy than the voice of the people stepping up and saying ‘We expect the Constitution of the United States of America to be our guiding doctrine,'” said the bill’s author, state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, in a report by the Texas Tribune.
Abbott signed the law at a gun store and shooting range near Austin.
Abbott hosts roundtable talks
After the May 2018 mass shooting at Santa Fe High School , Abbott convened a series of roundtable discussions.
Those talks led to the passage of several school safety measures during the most recent legislative session. That legislation, dubbed the school safety bill, included mental health initiatives and standards for making campus buildings more secure.
But after the session came to a close, two more mass shootings took place in Texas: one in El Paso, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart, and another in Odessa, in which seven people were killed.
In recent months, Abbott has held more discussions, created a domestic terror task force and issued several executive orders in response to the shootings.
The orders deal with bringing suspicious activity reports to the attention of law enforcement and better informing students, school staffs and families of potential threats, among other measures.
House and Senate select committees tasked with looking at mass shootings in the interim also were formed. State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, chairs the Senate committee and state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, chairs the House committee.
Huffman in 2018 received an “A” grade from the Texas State Rifle Association, as did Darby.
Where can guns be carried in Texas?
Several new laws that loosen restrictions on where Texans can have and store firearms went into effect Sept. 1. Those measures were passed in the 2019 session.
The measures include preventing residential lease agreements from prohibiting residents from possessing guns and making it so people can’t be charged with a crime for carrying a handgun without a license while evacuating from a disaster.
Firearms also now can be carried in places of worship, unless facilities give notice otherwise through proper signage.
“Even if it’s just by a little bit, they’re always looking to expand (gun laws),” said Ed Scruggs, president of Texas Gun Sense.
What’s next for Texas gun laws?
Asked if the state’s gun laws have become too permissive in the decades since Luby’s, Hupp replied: “Oh, heavens no.”
Conservatives still are pushing for the right to carry without a license, but whether or not that succeeds in the coming sessions remains to be seen. State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a North Texas Republican who is not seeking re-election, filed such a measure in the House during the most recent session.
The issue is part of the Texas Republican Party platform.
There have been attempts to pass gun safety measures such as a “red flag” law in recent sessions, but they have been largely unsuccessful. However, after the mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, which happened after the legislative session adjourned, advocates have been calling for such measures with amplified vigor.
Red flag laws would let concerned parties petition a judge for the removal of guns from a person who might cause harm to themselves or others. The mother of the El Paso shooting suspect did tell local police about her son’s military-style firearm. Abbott previously said “arguments can be made” her call didn’t rise to the level of a red flag type situation.
Such a measure and universal background checks are at the top of Gifford Executive Director Peter Ambler’s list of laws he’d like to see passed in Texas.
Giffords, a group that seeks to stop gun violence, was started by Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman severely injured during a mass shooting , and her husband, Mark Kelly.
State leadership seems to be more open than in the past to conversations about gun safety legislation. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has even said he supports background checks for stranger-to-stranger gun sales, clashing with the NRA.
But Abbott has been criticized by some for not calling a special session on gun safety and not going far enough in his executive action since the El Paso and Odessa shootings.
“If (the Texas Legislature) had the courage to pass stronger gun laws … then Texans would be safer,” Ambler said.
Eleanor Dearman covers the Texas Capitol and politics for the USA TODAY Network Austin Bureau and the El Paso Times.
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