Gun owners have almost universally trusted Republicans in the Texas Legislature to oppose efforts to restrict gun rights in the Lone Star State, but one GOP lawmaker’s decision to vote with Democrats to advance an anti-Second Amendment campaign may place gun rights at risk.
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety passed House Bill 316 by Austin Democrat State Rep. Donna Howard, the first gun-related bill to leave committee in the 86th Legislature. If enacted into law, HB 316 would establish a “public awareness campaign” that is established by incredibly broad language.
Every Democrat on the committee, chaired by State Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D–Eagle Pass), expectedly voted for the measure, but surprisingly the bill found the support of a Republican in order to reach a five-vote majority and leave committee. Republican State Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches cast the deciding vote in favor of the legislation.
The so-called “Firearm Safety and Suicide Prevention Public Awareness Campaign” would establish a program funded with $1 million of taxpayer money for government agencies to utilize and distribute the materials of “firearm safety advocacy organizations” and solicit contributions from the public for the campaign.
The bill states the program would be developed and executed by the Department of Public Safety, the Department of State Health Services, “and other government agencies.”
Gun rights advocates testified in committee that the bill’s broad and vague language leaves wiggle room for the program to include gun control advocacy and measures antithetical to Texans’ right to bear arms. Furthermore, they contended a taxpayer-funded program like this would undermine private sector efforts already taking place to instruct the public about the safe handling of firearms.
Their testimony was well received by all of the Republican lawmakers on the committee except for Clardy; State Reps. Dennis Paul (Houston), Dewayne Burns (Cleburne), Tony Tinderholt (Arlington) and Mike Lang (Granbury) all voted against the proposal.
However, Clardy’s vote was sufficient for the legislation to pass.
The bill will now head to the Texas House Calendars Committee. Its companion, Senate Bill 1573 by Sen. Carol Alvarado (D–Houston), was referred to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice which holds a 5-2 Republican majority from last month but has thus far not been scheduled for a public hearing.
The Texas House Homeland Security Committee has traditionally been the landing place of most bills regarding firearms. Second Amendment advocates and defenders of Texans’ rights to self-defend now have reason to be concerned over the remainder of the session with Clardy setting a precedent of siding with Democrats in committee against gun rights.