Gun Laws in Texas: State legalizes permitless carrying after House approves bill behind closed doors

Texas Governor Greg Abbott will sign the bill that allows all Texans to carry handguns without permits, making the state the 21st one to do so


                            Gun Laws in Texas: State legalizes permitless carrying after House approves bill behind closed doors
Advocating for the rights of gun owners, a group of demonstrators stage a counter-protest on March 24, 2018, in Killeen, Texas (Getty Images)

Constitutional carry is coming to Texas, thanks to House Bill 1927. The State House hashed out a deal and approved the bill behind closed doors just before Sunday midnight, May 23. It finally passed the House 82-62, after clearing the State Senate 17-13. Once signed by Governor Greb Abbott, Texas will become the 21st American state to allow constitutional carry.

The bill would make it legal for people to own guns in the state, without needing a permit. Under current laws, Texans need to undergo training, pass a written and shooting proficiency test and submit fingerprints. However, that will no longer be the case. Now, anyone over 21 can legally own a firearm without having to complete any of the procedures, which critics argue could lead to more mass shootings.

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Senator Charles Schwertner, who sponsored the bill in the Senate said on Monday, May 24, "This is a simple restoration of Texans’ constitutional right under the Second Amendment, a right of the people to keep and bear arms. I think it is a bill that is the strongest bill I’ve seen in my legislative career regarding the rights of our Second Amendment."

Advocating for the rights of gun owners, a group of demonstrators stage a counter-protest near a March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018, in Killeen, Texas (Getty Images)

A roller coaster ride

The bill wasn't easy to pass. The House initially passed the bill, but on May 5, the Senate voted to make certain amendments. That included support for law enforcement, and protecting domestic violence victims. Eventually, the Senate voted to remove the provisions that would have expunged some weapons-related charges, allow law enforcement officers to temporarily disarm a detained person and temporarily strip the permitless carry rights of people accused of certain violent crimes.

Other amendments included barring permitless carry from those convicted in the past five years of making a terroristic threat, deadly conduct, assault that causes bodily injury or disorderly conduct with a firearm. One amendment by a Democratic Senator that would require courts to notify criminals they were barred from owning firearms was rejected. The amended bill was sent back to the House, which initially rejected some of those amendments.

That led to the formation of a conference committee, made up of representatives and senators, who hashed out a deal behind closed doors. They were urged to keep the amendments after the Sheriff's Association of Texas wrote a letter to the conference. Eventually, the deal was approved late on May 23, and will now be sent to Governor Abbott to be signed into law. The conference has agreed to keep the Senate amendments, including a controversial proposal that would bar law enforcement from questioning people based only on their possession of a handgun.

A demonstrator holds a sign depicting an assault rifle at a protest against President Trump's visit, following a mass shooting that left at least 22 people dead, on August 7, 2019, in El Paso, Texas (Getty Images)

Texas goes permitless

Once signed by Abbott, Texas will be the 21st state to legalize 'constitutional carry', or the ability to carry a firearm without a permit. Barring those banned due to their criminal charges, everyone above 21 in the state will be allowed to carry a handgun, openly or concealed. The state has been trying to pass the bill for years, but never got the support it needed in both chambers.

The Republican-controlled state legislature has backed constitutional carry for a long time, despite strong public support against the idea. A Texas Tribune poll found that 59 percent of Texans do not support the bill. That changes drastically based on political affiliation. Around 85 percent of Democrats oppose the bill, whereas only 39 percent of Republicans do. Abbott too supports the bill, as he told WBAP radio back in April. "This is something that 20 other states have adopted and it’s time for Texas to adopt it, too," Abbott said.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during the NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center on May 4, 2018, in Dallas, Texas (Getty Images)

While gun rights advocates are celebrating the passage, gun control proponents have been quick to denounce the bill. The state saw two deadly mass shootings in 2019, one in El Paso and another in Odessa, which critics argue could be more frequent without permits. However, the state has only seen seven mass shootings over the past decade, which is a considerably small number compared to others. The 2019 attacks left a total of 30 dead, the deadliest in the past decade. 

Texas will join Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming in allowing fully permitless carry. Maine and Tennessee have permitless carry but with some conditions.

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