A day after nine people died in a massive shootout in Waco, a Senate committee approved a House bill (HB 910) that would expand the rights of gun owners by allowing concealed handgun license holders to openly carry a holstered handgun.
The Waco shooting was just the sort of “chaotic situation” that open carry could exacerbate, Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Troy Gay warned senators today. Throughout the legislative session, open carry critics—including law enforcement officials—have argued that the law could make it harder for officers to discern the bad actor in a situation with multiple shooters, slowing the police response.
Stephanie Lundy, representing the gun control group Moms Demand Action, said that the Waco shooting should make it clear that “more guns in more places with fewer safeguards is not a winning strategy for public safety.”
Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) both said that HB 910 has nothing to do with the shooting. Birdwell stressed that law enforcement officers in Waco “performed masterfully” while Huffman argued that this particular bill isn’t about legislating against criminal activity. She said that there are “plenty of laws on the books” designed to prevent the type of incident that occurred yesterday.
“We try our best to control criminal activity and we try our best to prevent criminals from committing crimes, but as we can see yesterday, things still occur sometimes,” Huffman said.
Open carry is pretty much a lock to pass this session in one form or another, so many witnesses against the bill used the hearing to preemptively lobby against a “campus carry” amendment that may be tacked on during debate on the Senate floor. That measure would allow license holders to carry handguns into college classrooms, dorms and other buildings on campus. Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), author of a campus carry bill that failed to get through the House calendars committee, said earlier this month that tacking on the measure as a Senate amendment would be easier than having to “fight the fight” on the House floor.
Several public Texas university chancellors, including University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, have said they are opposed to campus carry. Thousands of students have signed petitions against the measure.
Sandy Twidwell with Moms Demand Action said the fact that legislators are considering a campus carry amendment, despite widespread public opposition, “demonstrates a lack of respect unworthy of this body and the people it serves.”
Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) said that he thinks “everyone who is tackling these issues wants to work against gun violence,” but they have differing ideas of how to do it. He invited anyone with an thoughts on how to prevent gun violence, including representatives of Moms Demand Action, to bring him ideas after the session ends.
HB 910 easily passed the committee, with only Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) voting against the bill. The committee did make one change to the bill, eliminating an amendment that would have prohibited police from stopping people to ask whether they have a concealed handgun license.