AUSTIN, Texas - With Texas House members ready to take up the debate over constitutional carry, a coalition of Texas law enforcement stood on the south steps of the Capitol Tuesday to make it clear where they stand on the controversial issue.
"Current licensing requirement that ensure gun owners know and understand applicable laws and safe gun handling techniques and storage enhances the safety of all Texans," said Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia.
That position statement comes as House Bill 1911 and House Bill 1927, which essentially do the same thing, are ready to be debated on the House floor. The main part is removing the requirement for adults who buys a handgun from passing a training class and having a permit in order to carry a handgun while in public. People engaging in criminal conduct or with gang affiliation would not be eligible under the legislation.
"This begs a simple question, at a time when violent crime is rising and police-community relations are strained, do we really want to inject more firearms into this complex equation," said San Marcos Police Chief Stan Standridge, who is also with the Texas Police Chiefs Association.
Kevin Lawrence with the Texas Municipal Police Association took exception to those who claim the legislation is needed to protect Second Amendment rights. "We believe constitutional carry is what we have right now, this is unlicensed carry," said Lawrence.
Gun rights advocates say this is not an ownership argument. The legislation would allow handguns to be carried the same as shotguns and long rifles, which currently can be carried in public without permits. The bills do not eliminate background checks or waiting periods, according to Felisha Bull with the Texas chapter of Gun Owners of America.
"Any responsible gun owner is going to know the value of training but it should not be government-mandated and that’s what we’re doing right now," said Bull.
The legislation, according to Bull, does not remove existing law that prohibits handguns from being taken into places like businesses and schools. When asked who would be helped by the new law, she offered this scenario.
"I’m a single female, if I work odd hours, I need to walk down the street to check my mail as a law-abiding citizen I can have a firearm in my home but if I put that firearm on my person and exit my property I’m now committing a crime because I don’t have a license to carry," said Bull.
There are currently 20 states that allow people to carry a gun in public, some openly and others only concealed, without having a permit. Arizona is one of the largest states while Tennessee is the most recent to pass a permitless law.
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"And as we have seen in other states that past constitutional carry, training, and even licensure can go up just because more people are starting to exercise that right that they didn’t before," said Chris McNutt with Texas Gun Rights.
That argument doesn’t convince three licensed to carry trainers also at the Texas Capitol Tuesday. They join the law enforcement group in opposing constitutional carry Bills. "We know the two main causes for gun accidents are our ignorance and carelessness, and we see that quite often," said firearm instructor Raul Camacho.
There is a companion bill in the Senate, but that legislation remains in committee.