President Joe Biden announced executive actions aimed at curbing gun violence.
The Texas House could vote Thursday on a bill to drop training and licensing requirements from carrying handguns in public.
AUSTIN — As a combat veteran, a former police officer and now a certified firearms instructor, Jorge DeLeon says Texas lawmakers are gambling with innocent lives if they remove the requirement that people who carry handguns in public be properly trained.
“If you take away the only training we get as a civilian right now, it’s going to be worse.” DeLeon said outside the Texas Capitol on Tuesday. “I say we should (require) more training to the civilians out there.
“We cannot let people out there without education handling weapons.”
DeLeon, who lost his right leg while serving in the Army in Afghanistan, was joined by several current and former law enforcement officers and license-to-carry instructors who oppose House Bill 1911. The measure, by East Texas Republican James White, remove the licensing requirement for law-abiding Texans to carry handguns in public.
The legislation was approved this month on a party-line vote in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and is expected to come up for a vote Thursday in the full House where Republicans hold an 83-67 majority.
White, who chairs the committee and was unsuccessful in his 2019 effort to pass what supporters call “constitutional carry” legislation, said doing away with the licensing requirement better safeguards Texans’ rights under the Second Amendment.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re on the left or the right, or in the in the middle,” he said during a long committee hearing on the measure, “everybody wants their rights.”
But Kevin Lawrence, who spent 20 years as a law enforcement officer and is now executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, said rights under the Second Amendment, or under anything else in the Constitution, are not absolute.
“All rights are conditional. There’s no such thing as an unfettered right,” Lawrence said. “The right to free speech, freedom of the press, it’s not unfettered. So the right to keep and bear arms is not unfettered either.”
Under current law, people in Texas who have passed the required training can obtain a license to carry if they are 21 or older, have a clean criminal record and do not have a chemical dependence. Other restrictions include the inability to “exercise sound judgment with respect the proper use and storage of a handgun.”
In 2015, the Legislature expanded Texans’ rights to carry handguns in public. Starting in the late 1990s, people who passed state-required training and met other qualifications could legally carry handguns in many public public settings.
Under the measure passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, licensed handgun carriers do not need to conceal the weapons.
Even with a license, state law prohibits carrying handguns at K-12 schools or anywhere school activities are taking place, including on school buses. Handguns are also prohibited at polling places, court buildings or offices and at racetracks.
Guns are not allowed at bars, hospitals and sporting events. However, the proprietors of such establishments are required to post state-approved signs warning carriers of the law prohibiting firearms.
Allen West, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party who was elected by a committee of GOP activists statewide, is strongly backing White’s bill.
Abbott, a second-term Republican, has been an ardent defender of gun rights dating back at least to his three terms as Texas attorney general. He has not taken an official position on HB 1911, but is backing legislation that would prevent using state resources to enforce any new federal restrictions on firearms and ammunition.
The National Rifle Association, through its Institute for Legislative Action, is backing White’s bills and others similar to it pending in the Legislature.
“It’s time for Texas to join the 20 other states that have legalized this personal-protection option,” the organization said in a statement on Monday.
According to the NRA, states that do not require a license for residents to carry handguns include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.
“Criminals who are prohibited from possessing firearms would still be barred from carrying guns,” the NRA’s legislative arm said. “This legislation would not prevent the enforcement of any laws broken by criminals who misuse firearms.”
NRA member Raul Camacho, a Texas license-to-carry instructor and a former police officer, said he is not on board with the influential gun rights lobby’s stance on unlicensed carrying in public.
“For people to bypass the LTC course, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Camacho said. “The last thing we need is untrained individuals out in public carrying guns that don’t know what the hell they’re doing.”
He said that in the last five years, some 30,000 license-to-carry applicants were rejected for such reasons as past criminal history or failure to pass the required training course.
“Do you want those 30,000 people back on the streets carrying guns?” Camacho said. “It makes no sense.”
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.
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