In Gun Debate, Texas House Goes Off Half-Cocked

House Tentatively Passes 14 of 15 Gun Bills on Voice Votes

In the wake of Sandy Hook and other gun tragedies, many state legislatures are passing stricter gun regulations. But not in Texas.

The Texas House took a step in the other direction Saturday afternoon, tentatively passing all but one of the 15 gun bills on its agenda. The message from the House was clear: the Legislature wants more Texans to pack heat.

Despite some controversy, all the bills were rushed along through voice votes so members could catch the last legs of the Kentucky Derby. (Speaker Joe Straus tweeted that he was drinking a mint julep at the podium.)

The bills would drop concealed handgun licensing (CHL) classes from 10 hours down to six, allow public schools to hire armed public-school marshals, and lower the CHL renewal fee for members of the international, national and state guard, and for state-employed correction officers.

One of the two more controversial bills, House Bill 1076, by Republican Rep. Steve Toth from the Woodlands, would criminalize any potential federal gun regulations in Texas.

He’s said House Bill 1076, a “Firearm Protection Act,” will prevent any state-funded entity, including schools, universities, and state employees from enforcing any federal orders or laws that impose a “prohibition, restriction or other regulation, such as capacity or size requirement or a background check” that does not already exist as a Texas state law.

Any agency that enforces federal law, instead of adhering to Texas’ own codes, will be cut off from state funding. Individuals could also get a Class A misdemeanor – the most serious misdemeanor in Texas, which means a $4,000 fine or a year of jail time.

On the House floor, Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie, and a few other Democrats called out the bill as purely political. “This is a bill about saying that we’re making a political statement, that we don’t like President [Barack] Obama, that we don’t like what’s going on in Washington, and that we can go back home and say we took it to the president,” Turner said.

Eagle Pass Democrat Rep. Alfonso Nevárez said he’s all for Second Amendment rights, “but that’s just rhetoric … all we’re hearing about why it’s such a great bill is that it’s good for America, for Second Amendment rights. Great. But there’s a lot of great bills that we’ve passed today … on this one we really need to step back and look at it.”

Toth said that he and the bill’s other authors enlisted Attorney General Greg Abbott’s help in drafting the bill to “to make sure that we had something that would be air-tight.”

That’s all well and good, Nevárez said, but “the AG’s batting 1,000 right now when it comes to battling the federal government.”

When Toth asked for the help of Attorney General Abbott in drafting the bill, he also asked National Rifle Association and militia hall-of-famer Sheriff Richard Mack, former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, to weigh in.

Mack told the Observer earlier this session that this bill is indeed about the message it sends out. “I think it’s a bold move,” Mack said. “It’s the right thing to do. [The bill] reinforces what we believe in Texas and in this country—that the bill of rights and the constitution are more important than political agenda,” he said. “It sends a strong statement to Washington and the local officials that the Second Amendment is still the supreme law of the land and that it is not to be trifled with.”

But as many legislators pointed out, HB 1076 would seem to violate the “Supremacy Clause.” The clause, or Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, mandates that in any conflict between federal and state law or constitutional rights, the federal law takes precedence.

Political posturing indeed.

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Published at 8:59 pm CST