Breaking new ground in a concerted effort to expand gun rights, a Texas House committee approved legislation Tuesday that would allow handguns to be carried — concealed or in a holster — without a state-issued license.
Approval came on a 6-2 party-line vote even though all six Republicans voting in favor of House Bill 1911 did so despite reservations — one over concerns that unlicensed carry could hinder police officers and five because they believed the bill didn’t go far enough to remove restrictions on gun owners.
“I’m voting for it, and I’m proud to do so,” said state Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie. “It’s the first bill to be voted on in the Texas House to allow permitless carry of a handgun.”
Wray added, however, that he will begin working on floor amendments “to dial in 1911 to rectify restrictions on permitless carry,” including restrictions for those convicted of a nonviolent Class B misdemeanor.
The version of HB 1911 approved by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee contained several substantial changes from the version that drew extensive public testimony three weeks ago, including:
• To carry without a permit, gun owners would have to meet the same standards needed to obtain a license to carry, which is generally available to those who are 21 or older, have no criminal convictions and are eligible to purchase a weapon under federal and state laws. The earlier version would have allowed guns to be carried by those 18 and older.
• Churches and places of worship would be removed as prohibited places to carry a gun, although the sites could post signs banning guns if desired.
• Openly carried handguns would still be required to be kept in a holster, but not only in a belt or shoulder holster.
The revised bill by Rep. James White, R-Hillister, wouldn’t change any laws related to campus carry, a statute passed in 2015 that allows licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons into most areas of public universities, said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford.
“This bill simply creates an unlicensed option to carrying a handgun,” said King, chairman of the committee.
The committee didn’t vote on another bill to allow permitless carry — often called constitutional carry — that was favored by many of the gun rights advocates who testified during an hours-long committee hearing last month: House Bill 375 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.
King said the committee was awaiting a revised version of the bill to meet several unstated concerns — which Stickland indicated won’t occur for his legislation that would allow anybody who legally owns a firearm to carry it without a license.
“I’m not going to water it down. He knows that,” Stickland said via Twitter.
After the hearing, White said he sought to find a balance with his bill.
“We understand that for the most part Texans are satisfied with the current carry laws we have now. However, there is still a significant number of Texans who believe that if you’re a law-abiding citizen, you shouldn’t necessarily have to buy your way to a right to bear arms through a license,” White told the American-Statesman.
“This should not technically change the population of people, the character of the population of people that are carrying,” he said.
Before voting on HB 1911, King said that, as a former police officer, he had “grave concerns” about its potential impact on law enforcement. Even so, King voted yes, saying he was motivated by respect for White and the goals of the bill’s supporters.
Several other Republicans who voted yes said they favored Stickland’s version, including Reps. Matt Schaefer of Tyler and DeWayne Burns of Cleburne.
Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, voted “no,” saying her office received an outpouring of calls and emails from people opposed to HB 1911.
“I am concerned that this bill will make it harder for our law enforcement officers to do the job that we entrust them with,” Hinojosa said.