By now, many Texans have seen the heroic actions of Jack Wilson, the man who stopped a shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement on Sunday by shooting and killing the gunman. While the shooter was still able to claim the lives of two parishioners, countless others were saved by the actions of Wilson, who served as the head of the church’s security team.
Until recently, however, such an arrangement would have been illegal under Texas law.
While Texas law has allowed permit-holders to carry concealed firearms with them to church for decades, that hadn’t always been made clear—until a 2017 opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Additionally, churches were restricted from creating a volunteer security patrol without meeting stringent licensing requirements. So while individuals have been free to carry at places of worship, they could not coordinate or organize.
That is, until the actions of former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi.
In 2017, Rinaldi filed House Bill 421, which, as filed, would have exempted volunteer security at churches from the stringent and expensive licensing requirements mandated by state law.
That bill received a great deal of support in the Texas House, with nearly 50 coauthors.
When the bill received a hearing in the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, conservative grassroots activists—from Cindy Asmussen to Dana Waller Harris—came out and spoke in support of the legislation.
Opposed to the bill were, predictably, representatives from the church security agencies that profited off the regulations. Additionally, a representative from one of the largest police interest groups, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, spoke against the bill.
Despite the opposition, however, the bill was eventually passed out of committee at the end of March. That’s when the delays began.
Rinaldi’s bill did not have a counterpart in the Senate, meaning that if then-Speaker Joe Straus and House leadership wanted to kill the bill, they would have to do so very obviously.
While the committee passed the bill out on March 28, it took nearly two weeks for the report to reach the House Calendars Committee, arriving on April 10. This is an abnormally long time, as it usually takes only a day or two for a bill to move, proving the bill was far from a priority for House leadership.
From there, the bill sat nearly a month until it was considered in the Calendars committee on May 3. Even then, however, no action was taken on the bill, and at that point, with only a short amount of time left in the regular session, it appeared the bill was all but dead.
That is, until the perfect vehicle landed on the House floor.
Senate Bill 2065 by State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R–North Richland Hills) was filed to deregulate and eliminate a wide swath of state licenses in the wake of a biennial strategic review by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The omnibus bill covered everything from cosmetology to vehicle booting.
But a keen Rinaldi seized the opportunity to amend the bill on the floor to exempt volunteer security services from state regulation on security officers. The amendment was unanimously adopted, and the bill was eventually signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.
And on Sunday, during the tragic events in White Settlement, it was the head of one of those now-exempt volunteers that quickly fired the fatal shot, bringing an abrupt end to what could have easily resulted in a much larger death toll.
“Today is yet another reminder for us to be thankful for former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi passing the Church Security Bill during the 85th Texas lege session,” wrote Dana Waller Harris on Facebook, who had served as the Texas State Director of Concerned Women for America during the 2017 session and worked heavily on the church security legislation.
“Because he refused to give up on this bill, finally adding it as an amendment to another bill on the floor, churches in Texas can legally organize and utilize church volunteers to protect their building and congregations.”