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Open Carry Bill Poised To Clear Texas House

Todd Wiseman
The Texas Tribune

Texas will be well on its way to allowing gun owners with concealed weapons permits to start carrying their handguns openly in public places if the state House approves key gun legislation Tuesday.

Lawmakers are set to debate House Bill 910 from state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, which would allow license holders to carry their handguns in a hip or shoulder holster. More than half of the House’s 150 members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill

The Senate passed its own version of the legislation in March, and Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will sign any open carry bill that reaches his desk.

The new law would come despite the protests of many law enforcement officials, who have said that openly armed citizens would endanger both police officers and the communities they try to protect — and strain the already limited resources of local police departments.

“Right now, I’m doing good to send two deputies to a very dangerous situation,” Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia told lawmakers at a February Senate hearing. “Now when we get a call, shots fired or disturbance with guns involved, we typically think one person is creating chaos. Now we may have many people.”

Lawmakers and gun rights advocates have argued that the change is needed to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding handgun license holders.

“It’s time to let them take off their coats to pump their gas in August,” said Alice Tripp, a lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association, at a House hearing on Phillips' bill in March. 

Texas is one of only a few states that bans open carry, though it has less restrictive firearms licensing and purchasing laws than many of the states that do allow it.

In both the House and Senate, licensed open carry proposals have also faced criticism from a vocal faction of gun rights supporters who favor repealing handgun permitting requirements altogether.

Arguing that the costs of obtaining a concealed handgun license and the restrictions the state places on applicants violate Second Amendment rights, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has championed so-called constitutional carry in the House.

Neither Stickland’s measure nor its Senate companion have received committee hearings.

Stickland, who did not return a request for comment Monday, told The Texas Tribune in February that he had vowed to amend any gun bill that came to the House floor in an effort to remove licensing requirements.

“I have promised a record vote, and we will get it,” he said.

This story was provided by The Texas Tribune.

Morgan Smith reports on politics and education for the Tribune, which she joined in November 2009. She writes about the effects of the state budget, school finance reform, accountability and testing in Texas public schools. Her political coverage has included congressional and legislative races, as well as Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign, which she followed to Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2013, she received a National Education Writers Association award for "Death of a District," a series on school closures. After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Wellesley College, she moved to Austin in 2008 to enter law school at the University of Texas. A San Antonio native, her work has also appeared in Slate, where she spent a year as an editorial intern in Washington D.C.