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Bill that would reduce handgun license fee headed to full Senate

A measure approved by a Senate committee would reduce the first-time fee for a license to carry a handgun from $140 to $40 and the annual renewal fee from $70 to $40.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, during a Sept. 15, 2016 Senate Finance Committee hearing.

Texans wanting to obtain or renew a license to carry a handgun would pay significantly less to do so under a proposal unanimously approved by the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee Monday. The measure now heads to the full Senate.

The version of Senate Bill 16 approved by the panel would reduce the first-time fee for a license to carry from $140 to $40 and the annual renewal fee from $70 to $40. Reducing these fees is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's priorities for the legislative session. 

“This would take Texas from one of the highest fees in the nation to one of the lowest fees in the nation,” said the bill's primary author, state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

Only Illinois and Arkansas now have higher fees to obtain a license to carry a handgun, Nichols said.

Sixteen Republicans in the 31-member Senate — including Nichols — have signed on to the bill as authors or co-authors.

The proposed $40 fee would cover the Department of Public Safety's cost to administer the license program as well as the $27 needed for county, state and federal background checks, Nichols' office said in a statement.

Nichols was met with many supporters of his bill at Monday’s hearing, including some who insisted that Texans should not have to pay any fee for personal protection. CJ Grisham with Open Carry Texas told lawmakers he got a license to carry in several states he was stationed in over his 20 years in the Army — all cheaper than in Texas.

“The fact that — as a Texan — when I came back to my own state and realized I had to pay near $200 for it I sort of felt like my 20 years of service were for nothing," he said, referring to the $140 fee. "I fought to defend these rights and now I had to pay for them."

Others at the hearing who were in support of the bill asked the committee to consider exempting law enforcement officers from having to pay any fee.

And Gov. Greg Abbott believes Texas shouldn't impose any fees on licenses to carry handguns, a spokeswoman said in January.

“The governor believes Texans shouldn't have to pay a price to exercise their Second Amendment rights, and he looks forward to signing legislation that will achieve that goal,” said the spokeswoman, Ciara Matthews.

At Monday's hearing, some argued that a small portion of the $40 fee should go toward gun violence prevention programs. Andrea Brauer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, was among them, though she didn't take a position on Nichols' bill.

“We have over 3,200 gun deaths a year and we spend nothing" on prevention, Brauer said in an interview after she testified. "We really think this fee is the way to go." 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • House Bill 375 would give all Texans the right to openly carry a firearm — with or without a permit. If passed, Texas would be the 11th state to allow "constitutional carry."

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State government 85th Legislative Session Guns In Texas Robert Nichols Texas Legislature