If the Texas Senate gets its way, the familiar term “CHL” might be losing a letter. On Tuesday, Senators passed legislation by Sen. Craig Estes (R–Wichita Falls) which would remove the requirement that concealed handgun license holders conceal their weapon when they are carrying in public. Requirements and procedures for obtaining a license would remain almost exactly the same but, if the bill passes the Texas House and is signed into law by Gov. Abbott, licensees would be entitled to choose whether to carry their weapon in the open or concealed.
Current Texas law restricts the rights of gun owners. Despite the fact that 44 states allow some form of open carry of handguns, Texas strangely omits handguns from the list of weapons which are allowed to be carried in the open. Texans can currently carry long rifles, shotguns, and certain black powder pistols openly and without a license.
Estes said that his legislation was in the same vein as a similar measure passed in Oklahoma.
“Two years ago they did this in Oklahoma, and for the sheriffs this has been a non-event; no problems,” Estes told fellow senators.
Restaurants, businesses, and other locations could still disallow open carry on their premises by utilizing a new 30.07 sign, with requirements for the new sign mirroring those in existing law allowing businesses to disallow concealed carry with a 30.06 sign.
The passage of SB 17 was not easily achieved, as Democrat State Sen. John Whitmire noted in his debate against the issue.
“If we had not changed the 2/3 rule, open carry legislation would not even be on the floor,” said Whitmire.
Though Whitmire cites it negatively, his remarks ring true with conservatives who decried the dreaded 2/3 rule as essentially a veto for the Senate Democratic Caucus. The rule didn’t stand in the way on Tuesday, after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led the way in lowering the requirement to 3/5 as one of his first actions in office. All 20 Republican Senators voted in favor of bringing the bill up for debate, with all 11 Democratic Senators voting in opposition.
Though the measure does expand the rights and liberties of Texans, some say it doesn’t go far enough. State Sen. Don Huffines and State Rep. Jonathan Stickland are both advocating for constitutional carry, which would not require an individual to have a license in order to carry a handgun in either an open or concealed fashion.
“We would never tolerate paying a surcharge for obtaining a license for our 1st Amendment rights; nor should we do the same for the Second Amendment,” said Huffines.
Huffines made his views on the issue very clear, standing as one of only three Senators to vote against an amendment by State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) prohibiting open carry on college campuses. State Sens. Bob Hall and Konni Burton joined Huffines in opposing the amendment.
With the Senate cleared, licensed open carry now proceeds to the Texas House, which conducted hearings on Wednesday on the issue. It must be approved by both chambers before it can arrive on Abbott’s desk. Abbott has signaled that he will approve the legislation, noting that he is “warming up his signing pen.” Similarly, campus carry seems to be following close on its heels with a vote expected in the Texas Senate on Wednesday. The issue was slated for Tuesday, but potential errors in the committee report left the legislation liable for a point of order.