Open Carry passes Texas Legislature

With the stroke of a pen by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texans will be allowed to openly carry their handguns. The much-debated piece of legislation was sent to the Governor’s desk after navigating the treacherous waters of the 84th legislature at the end of May.

House Bill 910 by state Representative Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) will allow for licensed gun owners to carry their firearm in an openly displayed hip or shoulder holster. Under current law, license holders are required to conceal their weapon in public, and carry a Concealed Handgun License.

While the majority of other states across the nation allow for some form of legal open carry, the legislation tested the boundaries of lawmakers’ acceptance of “constitutional carry,” the carrying of a firearm without a government permit.

The bill’s journey to the governor’s desk took an unexpected turn when, following six hours of debate on the senate floor, an amendment from Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) and state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) added in language that would have limited the ability of law enforcement officials to question someone solely based on the fact that the person was carrying a handgun. The “Cop-Stop” provision created an unusual alliance between urban Democrats, who said the language would help stop racial profiling, and Tea Party Republicans, who claimed the amendment would help protect citizen’s Fourth Amendment right to unlawful search a seizure of license holders. Opponents of the measure claimed it was an end-around way to eliminate licensing altogether, and an attempt to pass constitutional carry without properly vetting the idea. Other opponents of the amendment, including police associations from across the state, said that it would create additional burden for and endanger the lives of law enforcement officials on a daily basis.

The amendment was later stripped out in a conference committee, and the bill passed both chambers, largely along party lines. Numerous gun rights activists claimed that, without the amendment, the bill did not go far enough to ensure their constitutional rights.

Following its passage from both chambers, Governor Abbott tweeted: “Open Carry just passed in both Texas House & Senate. Next stop: My pen.” With the Governor’s signature, the bill will go into effect January 1, 2016.