Will ‘Constitutional carry’ law put more Texas police officers in harm’s way?

Texas Politics

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

AUSTIN (Texas Tribune/KXAN) — The new state law allowing most Texans to carry handguns in public without training or permits goes into effect in a little over two weeks. However, some law enforcement officials are worried the so-called “Constitutional carry” legislation could increase crime and put residents — and officers — in danger.

When lawmakers gaveled in for the 2021 regular legislative session in January, the first since back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa — some legislators expected to pass substantive firearm restrictions.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, a law was passed that allow anyone 21 years or older to carry a handgun in public without need for a permit or training as long as they aren’t otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm by law, such as people with felony or domestic violence convictions.

The Senate and House passed different versions of House Bill 1927, but agreed to a negotiated piece of legislation in May. The House approved the final version 82-62.

Texas law enforcement officers voiced staunch opposition to the new law as it moved through the Legislature.

“I don’t know what it’s a solution to,” James McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said. “I don’t know what the problem was to start with.”

Lawrence, also the chair of trustees for the Texas Fraternal Order of Police, said part of the reason the bill got support was because of some increased crime rates last year, leading Texans to fear that law enforcement might not be able to protect them. He also noted it could have partially been pushback to calls last year to “defund the police,” a movement that aims to lower law enforcement budgets and reallocate funds to social service programs.

“The entire process was done to appease a certain block of voters, to appease a very, very vocal, active group that were just demanding that they be allowed to carry guns,” he said.

Lawmakers added several amendments to the bill to assuage law enforcement’s concerns, including a requirement that the Department of Public Safety offer a free online firearm safety training course.

Ray Hunt, executive director of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said the bill could potentially have grave consequences for law enforcement officers, noting that it could be harder for them to decipher whether someone carrying a weapon is legally able to do so.

In Austin, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said in April that while he supports the Second Amendment, he didn’t believe that was the issue at hand.

“I want to be clear, this is not about the Second Amendment,” Chacon said. “It’s not about peoples’ right to lawfully carry a firearm — I’m very much in support of all those things. Carrying a powerful weapon is also a responsibility.”

Chacon explained that it’s important for police to know who is licensed to carry a firearm and who isn’t. Without these checks in place, officers may not be able to verify who could potentially have a gun, he explained.

Opposition by law enforcement officials led lawmakers to alter certain provisions, including one that would have banned officers from questioning a person based solely on their possession of a handgun.

Hunt and other law enforcement officials hope their fears over the permitless carry law won’t come to pass.

Law enforcement heavily condemned 2016’s “open carry” law that permits Texans to openly carry handguns in public as long as they have a permit. Many said they didn’t end up seeing noticeable effects after it passed.

“We were completely opposed to ‘license to carry’ when it happened, and we said all of the same arguments that we’re saying now,” Hunt said. “And nothing happened, so we’re hoping that we’re overreacting. We’re just concerned because anytime there’s more guns, there’s a problem.”

Gov. Greg Abbott insists he’s protecting gun rights for Texans, saying the signed legislation “instilled freedom in the Lone Star State.”

But most Texas voters opposed the idea of allowing people to carry handguns in public places without permits or licenses, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll conducted in April. Although 56% of Republicans supported unlicensed carry, 59% of all voters opposed it.

The new permitless carry law goes into effect Sept. 1.

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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