A bill is making its way through the legislature that is worrying both law enforcement and gun control advocates.
Both chambers of the Texas legislature have approved House Bill 1927, and are now passing it along to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed into law. The measure removes restrictions to own and carry a handgun, allowing anyone over the age of 21 without a felony criminal conviction to carry handguns – no license, background check, or training necessary.
According to CBS News, the governor has stated that he will sign the bill despite law enforcement and gun control opposition.
If made law, the proposal would loosen already relatively liberal restrictions to own guns in Texas, which has more than 1.6 million licensed gunowners. The bill has drawn criticism from gun control advocates who cite recent shootings at an El Paso Walmart, a high school near Houston, and a church in Sutherland Springs to push back on Second Amendment rights.
Law enforcement also voiced their disapproval of the bill in a letter sent from the Fort Worth Police Department to lawmakers. “The Fort Worth Police Department is opposed to HB 1927 and does not support any legislation that would allow the carrying of a handgun in a public place without a license or permit. Such action would remove crucial safeguards that are meant to protect Texans,” the letter reads.
In the letter, Chief Neil Noakes affirmed the department’s support of the constitutional right to carry a firearm, but was not on board with removing firearm safety and legal training.
“This increases the safe handling of firearms by those carrying their weapon in public, thereby decreasing the chances of another firearm tragedy. It comes down to responsibility and safety, not an infringement on Texan’s rights,” the letter reads.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Charles Schwertner defended his legislation, saying, “I would have never offered this bill if I thought it would in any way put Texans in harm or diminish law enforcement’s ability to enforce the law.”
However, some concessions were made by lawmakers to appease the Sheriff’s Association of Texas. Several amendments were added to the bill before approval, including a prohibition of permitless carry for individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors within the previous five years, such as disorderly conduct with a firearm or assault that leads to bodily injury.
Despite these amendments, members of law enforcement worry about whether they will be able to enforce these restrictions without conducting state background checks.
Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said that only some of the recommended misdemeanors made it onto the bill, and said that many officers are “nervous” and “skeptical” about the situation.
“Most law enforcement officers are very skeptical and nervous of the bill. From a sheriff’s association perspective, we believe that the criminals are going to be carrying guns anyway. We’ve never seen a law that stopped a criminal from carrying a gun, so we support the law-abiding citizens to carry.”
Supporters of the bill, such as the National Rifle Association, argue that it will enable Texans to better defend themselves in public and will remove impediments to Second Amendment constitutional rights, even calling it the “most significant” guns rights measure in Texas history.
Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, further clarified his stance. “A right requiring you to pay a tax or obtain a government permission slip is not a right at all,” he said.
Just as Texas lawmakers are also considering another bill to make Texas a “Second Amendment sanctuary state” immune to any new federal gun laws, some Texans still have mixed feelings.
A Targetmaster customer in Garland, Texas told CBS Dallas, “I don’t wanna look at every single person I come across as a potential threat. That’s not the world I wanna live in. So, I don’t believe in it. And if something does happen, and five people pull out guns, the police don’t know who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy.”