A bill allowing gun owners with concealed handgun licenses to carry weapons openly in public is back on the House schedule Friday and likely to spark a long and heated debate — barring any more procedural hiccups.
Lawmakers were expected to take up the legislation Tuesday, until House Democrats cried foul over a violation of House rules and shot down the bill before debate even started.
House Bill 910 by state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, was waylaid because a computer glitch affecting 125 bills misreported the positions of witnesses testifying at committee hearings. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, raised a point of order after spotting the error, forcing Phillips’ bill back to committee.
“Obviously the person that brought this was against the policy of licensed open carry,” Phillips, chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, said at an impromptu news conference after the postponement. His committee met immediately afterward to correct the bill and put it back on the House schedule. (Watch the House floor debate here.)
With more than half of the House’s 150 members signed on as co-sponsors, open carry is widely expected to pass if it hits the floor. If so, open carry will be well on its way to becoming law — the Senate passed its own version last month, and Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will sign any open carry bill that hits his desk.
But a spate of amendments from lawmakers across the political spectrum may prolong the final vote as members take the chance to bring ideological battles to the House floor.
As they did when the bill came to the Senate floor, Democrats are likely to attempt to close a loophole that allows people with gun licenses from other states to carry handguns legally in Texas, and push for increased training, background checks and other licensing requirements.
An effort to streamline signage requirements for business owners who want to ban guns on their property could also make its way to the floor as an amendment. A bill by Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, that would make it possible to print out a “no guns” sign after downloading it from the Texas Department of Public Safety website is stalled in committee.
The debate also presents an opportunity for lawmakers who feel the bill doesn’t go far enough — or that the Legislature isn’t moving fast enough on other gun bills. They may attempt to attach campus carry, which would require public colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns on their property, to the open carry bill.
Rep. Jonathan Stickland has also vowed to attempt to add his “constitutional carry” measure, removing all licensing requirements, to any gun bill reaching the House floor. The Bedford Republican has led a vocal faction of gun rights supporters who argue that the costs of obtaining a concealed handgun license, and the restrictions the state places on applicants, violate Second Amendment rights.
Phillips said such efforts are unrelated to his bill. “This is not against constitutional carry; it’s not for constitutional carry,” he told reporters Tuesday.
Texas is one of only a few states that ban open carry, though it has less restrictive firearms licensing and purchasing laws than many of the states that do allow it.
The proposal has drawn criticism from many law enforcement officials who worry that openly armed citizens would endanger communities and strain the 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 Senate hearing in February. “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 who now must keep their weapons concealed.
“It’s time to let them take off their coats to pump their gas in August,” Alice Tripp, a lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association, said at a House hearing on Phillips’ bill in March.