In an unexpected uproar, gun rights organizations are pushing back against a proposed Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission rule change that would allow the sale of alcohol at some gun shows, saying the rules could have calamitous unintended consequences for the industry.
The proposed change was intended to allow the sale of alcohol at gun shows at facilities "owned or leased" by a government or nonprofit entity — so long as the guns are disabled, there is no live ammunition on the premises and the guns sold are not transferred to buyers on-site. The agency offered the proposal at the request of a gun club that thought the current ban was unnecessary.
But Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, an ardent gun rights supporter, said the language is written in such a way that the restrictions would apply beyond the scope that the commission intended. Without changes, gun rights lobbyists argue the proposal could potentially shut down hundreds of gun shows and various other events in Texas.
Commission staffers say some of the elements of the proposal that have riled gun rights activists were unintentional, and suggested the language would be revised ahead of any vote.
The current language, for example, says that a private, for-profit facility that is licensed by the commission to sell alcohol cannot hold a gun show or host an event that sells a firearm — even if it’s not selling alcohol at the event.
Commission spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said that “was an unintentional oversight on our part because we were so focused on trying to come up with something that would work for the gun show" that asked for reconsideration of the current ban.
But she also said gun groups have misinterpreted other portions of the rule change.
Gun groups are worried the language in the proposal that limits such events to facilities "owned or leased" by a government or nonprofit entity could apply to venues like hotels, which host charitable fundraisers for gun groups that serve alcohol and raffle off firearms. Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association, said her group fears a chamber of commerce dinner, for example, would suddenly no longer be able to serve wine and auction off a gun, which she described as commonplace.
But Beck said that if an organization like the National Rifle Association rented a room in a hotel, that would satisfy the proposed rules, which call for the facility to be “owned or leased” by a governmental or nonprofit entity.
Tripp, who first saw a draft of the rules two weeks ago, said she has talked with many gun show promoters around the state and found none that had any desire to serve alcohol at their events, which she said called into question the basis of the rule change altogether.
Patterson echoed that concern. “My question is: What are we trying to fix?” he asked.
Gun groups are also concerned about a provision in the proposal that would require guns for sale at TABC-licensed venues to not just be disabled but be disassembled, which they say curbs their marketability. The language in the rules calls for a gun to be “disabled and not readily convertible for use” — a term the NRA says courts have interpreted to mean entirely taken apart.
Beck said the language was intended to call for a precaution like a gun lock or a firing pin. “I didn’t understand it to mean that the gun would have to be taken part,” she said.
The proposed changes would also require that gun and sporting clubs not display guns for sale in the same area where they sell alcohol. Gun lobbyists have said that rule would impose a burden on gun clubs, but Beck said such a division is already required under state law.
Beck said last week that the commission will likely amend the rules to make clear that the live ammunition restriction was not meant to apply to concealed handgun carriers — another concern that was raised when the draft rules were released. She said the commission was also considering allowing gun shows and other events to continue operating under the current rules that prohibit alcohol sales at gun shows, which would address many gun groups’ worries.
Patterson said he and gun lobbyists are scheduled to meet with commission members on Wednesday to discuss their concerns. As part of the 30-day public comment period for the proposed rules, there will be a public hearing on Aug. 19.
Tripp said she is operating under the assumption that the rules were sloppily written and not intended to damage gun shows. “At this moment, it’s like: Do you realize?” she said. “It would put a small business out of business, and if they didn’t know that, it’s amazing.”
Lobbyists have contacted members of the legislative committees that oversee the commission, according to a Texas State Rifle Association press release.
“The NRA will be alerting its members to the situation and urging them to write the commission and go online to voice their opposition to the current draft of the proposed regulations,” NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen in an emailed statement.