AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A newly-formed committee in the Texas Senate held its first-ever hearing, focusing solely on the proposed permitless carry legislation.
The Senate Special Committee on Constitutional Issues heard more than 9 hours of testimony on House Bill 1927 on Thursday, which would remove permitting requirements to carry a firearm in the state.
HB 1927 passed out of the committee on a 5-2 vote.
More than 170 people signed up to testify on the bill Thursday. One supporter said the legislation would help ensure the safety of domestic violence victims. An opponent said it “arms everyone first and tries to figure out if they are a risk second.”
The legislation cleared the House earlier this month after an hours-long debate between lawmakers.
“We’re moving with all deliberate speed on this bill now, because now more than ever, Texans want to make sure that their Second Amendment rights are not only protect it, but restored,” State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who is spearheading the legislation in the Senate, said.
Supporters note it would allow responsible gun-owners access to firearms after costs to secure a license are removed.
“Very frequently, people of lesser means are more directly affected by such restrictions, because they may or may not have the means to apply for a license to carry a handgun,” Rick Briscoe, legislative director for Open Carry Texas, said in an interview Wednesday. “Or they may have had some minor scrape with the law which, under present, Texas law would disqualify them from being able to obtain a license to carry, and yet they have the same need protect their families and themselves.”
Opponents argue the bill would remove safeguards like background checks and training currently required when Texans seek to obtain a license to carry.
“Current law in Texas is to carry a handgun in public, a person has to have a license to carry, and that means you have to get a background check, you have to have classroom or virtual training about safety and gun laws and you have to demonstrate a level of live fire shooting proficiency in front of a license to carry instructors,” Gyl Switzer, director of Texas Gun Sense, said in a press conference this week.
“The permitless carry bills call for no background check, no training, no demonstration of proficiency,” Switzer claimed.
Schwertner said he planned to introduce six amendments to the bill once it passes out of committee and reaches the Senate floor. Those proposed changes would add back the offense of carrying while intoxicated, remove fees for licenses to carry for Texans who would still want one, remove the section that states officers cannot profile someone based on carrying, enhance penalties for felons caught carrying, ensure certain places like schools and hospitals can still stop Texans from carrying on the premises and require DPS to launch an optional online course for free on gun laws and safety.
Angelica Halphen waited more than 9 hours to speak to lawmakers about the legislation. Her son, Harrison Schmidt, was shot and killed during a road rage incident in Houston in 2019, according to police.
“As you sit and as you think, think about these future generations that have been taught to take a test, and they don’t know how to play together— they’re going to be adults soon— and that’s what scares me the most,” she said. “They don’t know how to handle situations.”
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, President Joe Biden’s new nominee to head up Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said this week it seemed “irresponsible that we would eliminate just basic common sense regulations.”
“Permitless carry does not make our community safer,” Gonzalez said. “Instead, it increases the odds of deadly confrontations and puts the lives of first responders at even greater risk.”
State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, who authored the bill, said, “criminals don’t care about our laws.”
“Criminals don’t care what laws we pass in this building and that puts criminals at a advantage,” he stated. “And so it’s time to restore faith in law abiding Texans who want to protect themselves and their families.”
Briscoe said bad guys “simply don’t ask permission.”
“If they see an individual who is in possession of a firearm, and they say, put the gun down,” Briscoe explained. “It’s been our experience that the good guy does, and bad guy turns and tries to shoot him.”
Briscoe’s eyes are on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on whether the conservative priority has enough support to pass through the Republican-led legislature.
“There are still not enough votes in the Senate to pass a permitless carry bill,” Patrick’s senior advisor Sherry Sylvester said on Friday after Patrick established the new committee and referred the bill to the panel.
“He will continue meeting with law enforcement, gun rights stakeholders and Senators on this issue to find consensus and the votes needed to pass,” Sylvester said.
After Gov. Greg Abbott was non-committal on the issue last week, he said in a radio interview this week he would sign a permitless carry bill should one reach his desk.
Patrick said Thursday he thought the bill was a few votes short of having enough support to pass but that he was working with Senators to rally more support.
“I support it, and I believe it should reach my desk, and we should have constitutional carry in Texas,” Abbott told radio station WBAP on Tuesday.
Should Senators approve any changes to the version of the bill that the House sent over, the lower chamber would need to sign off before the legislation heads to the Governor’s desk.