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A bill to allow the permitless carrying of handguns in Texas is on the brink of reaching Gov. Greg Abbott's desk after the state House and Senate reached a compromise on the bill.
The author of the legislation, Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, announced the deal in a statement Friday afternoon, and the Senate sponsor, Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, issued a subsequent statement also acknowledging an agreement. Just before midnight on Sunday, the House approved the deal in an 82-62 vote. The Senate is expected to approve the new version soon.
"By working together, the House and Senate will send Gov. Abbott the strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history, and protect the right of law-abiding Texans to carry a handgun as they exercise their God-given right to self-defense and the defense of their families," Schaefer said.
Abbott has said he would sign into law a "constitutional carry" proposal. Schaefer's House Bill 1927 would eliminate the requirement for Texas residents to obtain a license to carry handguns if they’re not barred by state or federal law from possessing a gun.
The text of the compromise was released Sunday. It keeps intact a number of changes that the Senate made to the House bill to assuage concerns from the law enforcement community, including striking a provision that would have barred cops from questioning someone based only on their possession of a handgun. The compromise version also preserves a Senate amendment beefing up the criminal penalty for a felon caught carrying to a second-degree felony with a minimum of five years in prison. Other Senate changes that survived was a requirement that the Texas Department of Public Safety offer a free online course on gun safety.
Once the Senate approves the agreed-upon version, it will head to Abbott's desk. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement that the HB 1927 compromise "will become eligible for a final vote early next week." Abbott has said he will sign the bill.
Permitless carry, long sought by gun rights activists, saw a breakthrough in April when the House passed HB 1927. Patrick initially said the Senate did not have the votes for it, but he created a new committee, referred HB 1927 to it and got it to the floor, where it passed earlier this month.
Before approving the bill, though, the Senate tacked on several amendments to address concerns by law enforcement groups that have historically opposed permitless carry. Those amendments at first alarmed some supporters of the proposal, with Schaefer saying he was "very concerned" they could lead to procedural issues in the lower chamber.
While Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, raised a procedural objection — known as a point of order — against HB 1927 when it returned to the House, he ended up withdrawing it, and the House proceeded to initiate a conference committee to work out the differences between the two chambers. Turner raised the objection again before Sunday night's vote, but again withdrew it.
Then Democrats gave emotional speeches denouncing the bill, noting that this was the first legislative session since the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa.
“This is our first session since those tragedies, and this is our response: A bill to allow permit less carry," he said. "A bill to say you don’t have to have any training to carry a handgun in the state of Texas. And I can’t imagine a worse slap in the face to all those people who have advocated, to the victims and to the family of those victims.”
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, described meeting with families of victims in the aftermath of the shooting. Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, described losing her father to gun violence.
Schaefer, meanwhile, argued that the bill was about defending the gun rights of Texans.
"The simple truth is that those that intend evil, those who are criminals, don’t care what we do in this building," he said. "They haven’t in the past and they won’t in the future. We are charged with defending the freedoms that are owed to Texans and guaranteed by the Constitution."
Patrick said Friday the bill "includes the thinking of national gun rights advocates and many in Texas law enforcement and affirms our commitment to protect the rights of gun owners and the safety of those in law enforcement." The Texas State Rifle Association was pleased with the compromise.
"For those of you who don't want to get bogged down in the report, there is nothing in here that I can find that isn't good for us!" TSRA legislative director Andi Turner wrote in an email to members Sunday afternoon. "It seems to be mostly common sense things (like don't be intoxicated and carrying, bigger penalties for felons caught carrying, etc)."
The House approval of the compromise, however, drew less bipartisan support than initial passage of the bill. Of the seven Democrats who voted for HB 1927 on second reading last month, three signed off on the deal, according to an unofficial vote count: Reps. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, a joint author of the bill; Richard Peña Raymond of Laredo; and Tracy King of Batesville. Another one of the seven Democrats, Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg, was absent for the vote on the compromise but also is a joint author of HB 1927.
For Republicans, the arrival of the compromise signaled the beginning of the end for some intraparty skepticism that a deal was possible — and Patrick used his statement to address the naysayers. Texas GOP Chair Allen West had accused the Senate of attaching "poison-pill amendments," which Patrick and his advisers denied, and West was questioning Patrick's commitment to the cause as recently as Thursday.
"Those who said HB 1927 would never pass and who perpetuated stories of a 'poison pill' and other conspiracies willfully misled many Second Amendment supporters in Texas," Patrick said in his statement. "They also underestimated how hard members of the House and Senate were working to pass this bill."