Visualize for a moment the worst drivers you’ve encountered on the road lately, the ones who swerve in and out of lanes and can’t be bothered to use a blinker, the ones who treat I-10 like Texas Motor Speedway, the ones who can kill you and your loved ones in the back seat with one errant turn of the wheel.
Imagine how much worse those people would drive if they weren’t even required to take a class, or pass a test or obtain a license to operate that hunk of menacing metal. Thankfully, no lawmaker is reckless enough to propose that idea.
Now picture those same folks — the careless, the clueless and the just plain dangerous — operating a loaded pistol instead. And imagine that there are indeed Texas lawmakers reckless enough to argue they shouldn’t have to take a single safety class, or demonstrate any level of proficiency with the weapon, or make any effort to obtain a license at all.
You don’t have to imagine. To the horror of many Texans, including responsible gun owners, firearms trainers and law enforcement officials, the Texas House has passed for the first time legislation allowing Texans over age 21 to carry a handgun in public without a permit. It excludes those already prohibited by law from owning a firearm.
Why this “permitless carry” bill, HB 1927, has even gotten a hearing in a session that should be focused on life-and-death issues of power grid failure and health care access we cannot say.
How lawmakers chose to align themselves with the radicals peddling it, including one who threateningly showed up at a former speaker’s home last session and another affiliated with the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, is beyond defending.
That House members are embracing this legislation amid a hail of deadly shootings and pandemic-related crime spikes across the state is unconscionable.
Supporters who call the legislation “constitutional carry” in their effort to argue it merely removes needless barriers to a right enshrined by the Founding Fathers conveniently omit, as they always do, that the late Justice Antonin Scalia insisted reasonable regulations were allowed even under the most robust reading of the Second Amendment.
For years, gun owners in this state have worked to distinguish themselves as law-abiding and responsible — and the vast majority no doubt are. But what responsible gun owner can’t be bothered to take a four-hour class on firearm laws, safe gun storage and conflict resolution?
Firearms instructor Lon Krieger summed up the situation best at a press conference recently to oppose the bill:
“What’s the downside of being trained?” he said. “There’s a downside of people walking around with dangerous weapons who don’t know how to use them.”
Where past efforts to weaken the state’s gun permitting requirements were blocked by House speakers, Texans who favor common sense gun laws will find no help from Speaker Dade Phelan, a former author of “permitless” legislation. Instead, we find our hopes rest in the unlikeliest of hands: those of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the Senate.
A reliable champion of red meat GOP causes, Patrick surprised many when he announced after the House vote that the Texas Senate didn’t have the votes to take up the bill. He had expressed reservations before in 2015 and again in 2017 when he referenced concerns among law enforcement about “anyone being able to walk down the street with a gun and they don’t know if they have a permit or not.”
Officials with police and sheriff’s offices across the state, including Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia, gathered at the state Capitol to tell lawmakers the bill only makes them less safe.
“Police labor and police executives have spoken out loud and clear,” tweeted Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and former Houston police chief. He challenged Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott directly, writing, “Do you back the blue enough to push back in the fringe. Most Texans do not support this nonsense.”
He’s right. A recent poll by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler showed 58 percent opposed to permitless carry, compared with 26 percent in support.
Of course, many Republican lawmakers don’t care about what most Texans want. They care about what their potential primary opponents would say and what their primary voters will do.
That’s why those who have also pledged to “back the blue” face a dilemma.
“Think about it,” state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, told the editorial board. “When this came up before, law enforcement was totally against it, totally. And usually when law enforcement is against something in the Texas Senate, it fails.”
He said the bill’s fate comes down to one thing: “how many arms Patrick can twist.”
Patrick has shown a willingness in the past to stand up to the NRA and has indicated support for expanded background checks. Beyond the politics, he understands how dangerous this legislation would be for Texas and that it couldn’t come at a worse time.
We urge sheriffs and chiefs to keep the pressure on. We implore senators who oppose unlicensed gun ownership in Texas to stand strong, and for Patrick to stand with them: kill this bill, lieutenant governor, before it kills us.