AUSTIN — After skirting the question for weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott is now saying he would sign a bill letting people carry handguns in public without a license if lawmakers pass it.
“I believe it should reach my desk and we should have constitutional carry in Texas,” Abbott, a Republican, said during a radio interview Tuesday on WBAP. “This is something that 20 other states already have adopted, and it’s time for Texas to adopt it too.”
His endorsement gives a major boost to the divisive legislation, which is gaining traction in the Texas Legislature after years of going nowhere. It also puts even more pressure on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to advance the National Rifle Association-backed bill, which has already cleared the House.
While Patrick has said permitless carry doesn’t have the votes to pass the GOP-led Senate, the Republican has said he’s working with law enforcement officers in opposition and gun rights groups in support “to find consensus and the votes needed to pass.”
The bill will receive a public hearing Thursday in a newly formed Senate committee stacked with Republicans who support it. Under House Bill 1927, people 21 and older who can legally possess a handgun can carry it publicly without first passing the background check and safety course required now.
More than half of the Senate’s 18 ruling Republicans told The Dallas Morning News this week that they back the bill. Several did not respond, including Flower Mound Sen. Jane Nelson and North Richland Hills Sen. Kelly Hancock.
Patrick has not taken a public stance on the bill, which faces pushback from law enforcement officials who say that if there is no state licensing requirement, police officers won’t be able to easily determine whether someone carrying a gun is legally allowed to do so.
“The problem is that the bad guys want to carry guns too,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association. “There has to be a way of determining who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy.”
It remains to be seen if the Senate Special Committee on Constitutional Issues will address those concerns by making changes to the bill. Abbott said he’d spoken to several members of the committee and believed they were “making progress.”
“Once the Senate passes it out, the House and Senate will convene and work out any differences and get it to my desk, and I’ll be signing it,” Abbott said.
Abbott is the latest high-profile Republican to come out in favor of “constitutional carry,” as it is known among supporters, who say the government shouldn’t block people’s right to bear arms.
The governor, who will be up for reelection next year, did not name it a priority in his State of the State address. But he did press lawmakers to take up other firearm-related issues, such as making Texas a Second Amendment “sanctuary state” for gun rights, which would block local officials from enforcing new federal firearm regulations.
Abbott’s embrace of looser gun laws comes in the first legislative session since gunmen killed 30 people in back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa in August 2019. In the aftermath of the massacres, Abbott called for better enforcement of current gun laws and more severe penalties for people who break them. He’s been largely silent on those proposals this year.