Texas Legislature 2019

With lack of movement on “constitutional carry” bill, gun rights advocate visits homes of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, other members

Bonnen called the man's move "gutless," according to media reports. The Angleton Republican was in Austin when the man visited his home.

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, presiding over the lower chamber during a bill debate last month.

* This story has been updated with comment from state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass.

A gun rights activist, allegedly angry over the lack of movement on a “constitutional carry” proposal at the Texas Legislature, visited the home of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen last week and was intercepted by officers with the Department of Public Safety.

The news was first reported by The Facts, a newspaper located in Brazoria County, which Bonnen represents. Chris McNutt, executive director of the nonprofit group Texas Gun Rights, last week visited Bonnen’s home in Lake Jackson, which was already under surveillance by state troopers after the man posted to social media his visits to other lawmakers’ homes

Bonnen, according to Hearst Newspapers, called McNutt’s move “gutless.”

Bonnen was in Austin the day of McNutt’s visit as the lower chamber debated its proposed state budget for 2020-21, though the Angleton Republican’s 14-year-old-son was home at the time of the gun rights advocate’s arrival. The day before, McNutt had documented on Facebook his travel to neighborhoods where Republican state Reps. Dustin Burrows and Four Price reside in Lubbock and Amarillo, respectively.

The speaker’s office confirmed such details to The Texas Tribune on Thursday night.

McNutt’s group has long called on Bonnen and other House leaders to advance House Bill 357, a measure authored by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, that would give Texans the right to openly carry a firearm without a permit. The proposal, often called “constitutional carry” by activists, has failed to garner traction at the Legislature in prior sessions.

In February, HB 357 was referred to the House Homeland Security Committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass. On Friday, Nevárez told the Tribune that, while he had planned to give the bill a hearing, "the behavior of certain groups and/or individuals who are unreasonable in their expectations and even more unreasonable in their behavior caused me to reconsider." He added that he didn't have a "hearing currently planned as a result."

“House Speaker Dennis Bonnen is blocking Constitutional Carry (HB 357)!,” Texas Gun Rights posted on Facebook on April 2. “It appears Bonnen intended to kill this bill all along — in spite of his false promises for a ‘quick hearing.’”

The post included phone numbers to Bonnen’s office to “respectfully urge” the speaker to advance the legislation to the full House floor for a vote — and said that, if the measure died this year, “the blame [would rest] SQUARELY on Speaker Bonnen’s shoulders.”

Though Bonnen oversees the chamber, he doesn't direct which legislation hits the floor for debate. That's a task that involves multiple committee chairmen appointed by the speaker to carry out.

McNutt, in a statement to Hearst, suggested that visiting Bonnen’s home was within bounds as his group aims to push the gun proposal.

“If politicians like Speaker Dennis Bonnen think they can show up at the doorsteps of Second Amendment supporters and make promises to earn votes in the election season, they shouldn’t be surprised when we show up in their neighborhoods to insist they simply keep their promises in the legislative session,” McNutt said in the statement.

Other gun rights activists in comments on Facebook have urged Bonnen to advance the gun legislation, with some suggesting more threatening messages.

"Drag 'Im Out ... To The Nearest Tree," wrote one commenter last week. "He has an address.. just like everyone else," wrote another.

Alex Samuels contributed to this report.