AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate gave initial approval on a contentious bill to allow permitless carry of firearms in an 18-13 vote on Wednesday.

House Bill 1927 removes the licensing requirement for Texans to carry firearms if they are 21 or older “and not otherwise prohibited by state or federal law from possessing the firearm.”

“The premise of the bill is not about trying to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This is about trying to reinstitute a constitutional right for law abiding citizens,” State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, said Wednesday.

“People who are prohibited from possessing a handgun will still be prohibited from possessing a handgun under this bill,” he said, noting that business owners and private property owners would still have the right to “exclude handguns on their property.”

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said she thinks “gun-free zones are victim zones, and I don’t like them,” before stating her support for the bill.

State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, announced his support for the bill Tuesday night.

“The people of Senate District 3 overwhelmingly support this legislation and as their State Senator, it’s my duty to represent my district accordingly,” Nichols tweeted.

Senators made several changes to the bill in the upper chamber. Senators added a provision to allow law enforcement officers to secure a handgun in a gun locker or other secure area when taking a person into the secure area of a police station. They also approved a measure to prevent anyone from legally carrying a handgun in Texas if that person was convicted of crimes in the past five years such as terroristic threat, deadly conduct, assault that causes bodily injury and disorderly conduct with a firearm.

Senators also affirmed that a person cannot carry a handgun while intoxicated in a public space. Other amendments adopted included increased penalties for felons caught with a firearm and increased penalties for Texans family violence convictions.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, expressed concern about protections for domestic violence survivors. She referenced previous legislation she carried to allow judges to suspend licenses to carry for domestic violence offenders when that judge issues a protective order.

“I’m really worried about our domestic violence victims,” Nelson said.

Schwertner also added a provision that designated areas such as schools, polling places and hospitals to prohibit carrying of handguns on their property. He also wiped a provision from the House version that required oral or written notice to the carrier from someone at the business or property, and instead simply required signage.

Additionally, Senators approved requiring the Texas Department of Public Safety to post firearm safety messaging on its website.

Schwertner received support for an amendment to remove a section of the bill that stated an officer cannot profile based on carrying a firearm.

State Sen. Bob Hall, R- Edgewood, voiced support for the bill.

“What we’re doing is following our Constitution of making changes with a view to prevent crime,” Hall said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, issued a statement after the bill passed.

“I am proud that the Texas Senate passed House Bill 1927 today, the Constitutional Carry bill, which affirms every Texan’s right to self-defense and our state’s strong support for our Second Amendment right to bear arms,” he stated. “In the Lone Star State, the Constitution is our permit to carry. I congratulate Senator Charles Schwertner for his leadership on this important issue and for the thoughtful and respectful debate in the Texas Senate today. We have moved quickly on this legislation and I want to thank all those involved who helped gather the votes needed to pass this historic bill.”   

“I don’t see anything that will be different by allowing those without a permit to carry that’s going to be any different than what we already see today.”

State Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster

Texas Democrats opposed the measure, stating it opens Texas up to “lose more loved ones to gun violence.”

“Texas Republicans continue to be a major threat to public safety, this time attempting to remove all requirements for people to carry a handgun in public,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “This law would further embolden hate groups and white supremacist organizations who thrive off of intimidation tactics and sowing distrust in institutions of public safety.”

Hinojosa cited the El Paso and Midland-Odessa massacres, saying Republicans “have quickly forgotten” lives lost to gun violence in the state.

“Their blatant disregard for Texans’ safety is appalling,” he stated.

Citing the Texas Safety Action Report published by Gov. Greg Abbott’s office in the wake of the El Paso and Midland-Odessa shootings, State Sen. César Blanco, D- El Paso, asked whether HB 1927 adopted any of the recommendations of the report. Schwertner said he had not read the report.

HB 1927 had previously passed out of the newly-formed Senate Special Committee on Constitutional Issues on April 29 in a 5-2 vote after 10 hours of testimony. It passed out of the House largely along party lines last month.

HB 1927 passed out of the upper chamber with some changes attached to the version approved by the House. It heads back to the House for approval on those changes. If the changes are approved, the bill heads to the Governor’s desk. If the changes are not agreed-upon by the House, the bill heads to a conference committee where a panel of lawmakers will iron out the differences between the versions before sending the bill to the Governor’s desk.

“No celebration yet folks! We are now reviewing amendments that were added by the Senate to look for issues that would break House rules governing the purpose of HB 1927,” said State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, who authored the legislation, in a tweet Wednesday night. “Our first impression has us very concerned. Will share more as soon as we can.”

Abbott signaled he would sign the bill into law should it reach his desk.