Surprise: Texas Senate blesses constitutional carry after all

(Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, Pool)

If Greg Abbott makes good on his pledge, law-abiding Texans should be able to carry firearms without applying for a permit from their local sheriff in the near future. The “constitutional carry” proposal had at one time appeared dead in the water, even with a majority of Republicans in the state senate, after law-enforcement groups came out in opposition. On Wednesday, however, the upper chamber passed the bill on a straight party-line vote.

It’s not quite ready for Abbott’s signature, but likely will be soon:

The Republican-led effort to allow Texans to carry handguns without any kind of license cleared what is likely its biggest remaining hurdle in the Capitol on Wednesday, when the Texas Senate moved in a nail-biter vote to bring the measure to the floor and then gave it preliminary approval.

Pending final approval, the measure – already passed by the Texas House – heads to a conference committee for the two chambers to hash out their differences, unless the House accepts the Senate amendments. Then the bill heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who said last week he would sign the permitless carry bill into law.

House Bill 1927 would nix the requirement for Texas residents to obtain a license to carry handguns if they’re not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a gun. The Senate initially approved the bill in an 18-13 vote, less than a week after it sailed out of a committee created to specifically to tackle the legislation.

Proponents of what Republicans call “constitutional carry” argue that Texas should follow the lead of at least 20 other states with similar laws on the books. Meanwhile, gun control advocates are sounding the alarm about making it easier to carry firearms after repeated instances of gun violence – including 2019’s massacres in El Paso and Midland-Odessa.

It’s not clear how significant the differences between the two bills are. Presumably, the elimination of permit requirements should be rather simple, but the two chambers have to agree on precise language in order to send it to Abbott. That means one more vote in each chamber, which gives opponents another chance to stop it — although that now seems highly unlikely. The lower chamber might eliminate one step in that by simply passing the state senate version instead if the differences are minimal enough.

That would reduce the opportunities to block passage, but it won’t keep opponents from trying a last-minute push to stop it. Before the senate vote, law enforcement groups sent witnesses to hearings insisting that the state should require the training that permits impose:

Having taken repeated coursework and training for permits in Minnesota, I can attest to the value of range qualification and education. Should that be an obstacle to free exercise of a constitutional right? Texas won’t be the first state to say no, but one would hope that those exercising permitless carriage would seek out that training on a regular basis. As the person says in the video above, the proper and legal use of lethal force and carrying firearms is complicated, and the training is at least sobering in that regard.

The Republican hesitancy to move forward on this bill is well-founded. A poll last week showed 59% of Texans opposed the idea, and only 56% of Republicans support it:

A solid majority of Texas voters don’t think adults should be allowed to carry handguns in public places without permits or licenses, though the idea is popular with a 56% majority of Republicans. Overall, 59% oppose unlicensed carry — a number driven up by the 85% of Democrats who oppose it. On the Republican side, the gun questions revealed a gender gap. Among Republican men, 70% said they support unlicensed carry; 49% of Republican women oppose that position.

More people carrying guns would make the United States safer, according to 34% of Texas voters, while 39% said that would make the country less safe. Another 16% said more armed Texans would have “no impact on safety.”

Almost half of Texas voters (46%) would make gun laws stricter, while 30% would leave them alone and 20% would loosen them. The partisan lines were sharp: 85% of Democrats would make gun laws stricter, while 53% of Republicans would leave them as they are and another 29% would loosen them. That GOP gender gap appeared again here: 20% of Republican women would make gun laws more strict, while only 10% of GOP men would; 19% of Republican women would loosen those laws, while 41% of GOP men would.

This is likely why Republicans in the Texas Senate hesitated on pushing the bill forward for passage. It’s a risk, and politicians get risk-averse when it comes to hot-button issues like gun rights and gun control. The status quo always looks like a safe haven in those cases.

Now that it’s pushed forward, though, it appears that the die has been cast. And it’s a surprising turn of events, as my colleague Cam Edwards writes at Bearing Arms:

The passage of Constitutional Carry in Texas may be one of the biggest surprises of the year in terms of pro-2A legislation. Gov. Greg Abbott threw his support behind Second Amendment Sanctuary legislation before this year’s legislative session began, but he didn’t publicly embrace Constitutional Carry until a few weeks ago when the House was poised to pass the bill. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had expressed doubts that the bill had enough support in the Senate as recently as last week, but when the roll call was held on Wednesday, every Republican senator ultimately voted in favor of the legislation.

The right-to-carry revolution is still making progress across the country, and Texas joining the ranks of the Constitutional Carry states would be a huge step towards the full recognition of the right to keep and bear arms. We’re not quite at the finish line yet, but it is in sight and it looks like the biggest hurdles for the bill have now been overcome.

Indeed they have.