Fri, 06/04/2021 - 15:14

As of June 1, 2021, Permitless Carry (HB1927, aka “Constitutional Carry”) has been passed by the Texas legislature and currently awaits Governor Abbott’s signature. We have little doubt that he will sign it soon, assuming we ever have a day when headlines are not dominated by another mass shooting.

Once Permitless Carry is enacted, "Texas will become the most populous state by far to allow people to carry loaded handguns in public (both open and concealed) without first obtaining a permit."

Once enacted, Texas will become the most populous state by far to allow people to carry loaded handguns in public (both open and concealed) without first obtaining a permit. In Texas, that permit is called a License to Carry (an “LTC”) and requires a background check, a small fee, and the completion of four to six hours of training. Permitless Carry scraps these safeguards.

Liz Hanks and her daughters

New gun owners who never learn how to handle their gun are certainly dangerous. Perhaps more dangerous, though, is the fact that not all gun sales in Texas are required to undergo a background check. The LTC ensures that anyone authorized to carry a handgun in public has passed a background check. Keep in mind that nearly 3,000 applications for an LTC were denied in 2020, so clearly many people are not good judges of whether or not they meet the requirements. Permitless Carry creates an honor system in which Texans and law enforcement have no reassurance that the man at HEB with a gun strapped to his hip is legally allowed to carry. Instead, so long as he has determined for himself that he is a “law-abiding citizen” who meets the requirements to carry without a permit, there is nothing at all to stop him from doing just that. That is, until he starts shooting.

"...Nearly 3,000 applications for License to Carry were denied in 2020, so clearly many people are not good judges of whether or not they meet the requirements."

Data shows us the Texas LTC program is extremely successful. Data shows us that states who have moved to a permitless system have seen significant increases in gun violence. Texas law enforcement knows all of this, which is why not a single law enforcement agency or organization came out in support of this bill. To the contrary, most law enforcement publicly opposed it Many great articles have been written about the specifics of the bill and how it will impact Texans

"...not a single law enforcement agency or organization came out in support of this bill."

Today, though, I want to take you inside the fight from my perspective as a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. Beginning in January, our Texas legislative team was already hard at work. We organized and led over 60 meetings that put Texas lawmakers in a (Zoom) room with their Moms Demand Action constituents. We have volunteers in just about every district in the state and, with well-over 150 gun bills introduced this session, there was much to discuss.

Liz Hanks and Daughter at the Texas Legislature

In these meetings, we heard that the new Speaker seemed “nice” and reasonable, but we knew he had personally authored multiple permitless carry bills over the last few sessions. We heard that lawmakers had made promises to act on gun violence in the wake of the 2019 El Paso and Permian Basin shootings and the Select Committee hearings that followed. We heard that this session would be too focused on COVID-19, the grid failure, and redistricting to waste time on dangerous and unnecessary gun laws. That was all wishful thinking.

"As soon as Speaker Phelan’s Committee assignments came out, we knew Texans were in danger."

As soon as Speaker Phelan’s Committee assignments came out, we knew Texans were in danger. The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, where many firearm-related bills are typically heard, was stacked with gun rights extremists whose unabashed agenda is to eliminate gun regulations in any form. Behind closed doors, Chairman James White was cordial and let us know that he supports the existing LTC system. He sounded fairly reasonable, but we quickly realized that ‘reasonable’ will never be a word used to describe the 87th Texas Legislature.

"When the first permitless carry bill was finally called 14 hours later, there was no doubt that they would ram through Permitless Carry in the dead of night. Our designated speaker gave her testimony when she was finally called, but the bill that would ultimately pass out of committee was not heard until around 4:30 AM."

Chairman White scheduled all four permitless carry bills to be heard on the same day as the George Floyd Act, knowing full-well that public comment on each of those bills would take hours and hours. Dozens of Moms Demand Action volunteers came from all over the state, as far away as El Paso, to testify. When the first permitless carry bill was finally called 14 hours later, there was no doubt that they would ram through Permitless Carry in the dead of night. Our designated speaker gave her testimony when she was finally called, but the bill that would ultimately pass out of committee was not heard until around 4:30 AM. As they undoubtedly planned, most of us had already left. We have jobs. We have families. We have people who need us. That should not preclude us from being heard. If anything, we were there to speak for the same people who needed us home. Regardless, sponsors and proponents of the bill would use that against us in future messaging -- more people testified at five in the morning in favor of the bill than against, so Texans must be in favor of it! The whole ordeal would be laughable if it were not so insidious and malicious.

Child at Texas Capitol Building

The process was almost as malicious as the text of HB1927, which was certainly the most egregious of the four permitless carry bills. It included a “whoops!” clause that would have allowed anyone who unlawfully carried a handgun past a 30.06 or 30.07 (a.k.a. ‘no guns allowed’) sign to escape any penalty or consequence so long as they left if/when they were confronted by the owner of the establishment. This would have effectively done away with our gun free zones, like schools, hospitals and court rooms. And although that provision ultimately died in the conference committee, you would be wrong to think that the final version of this bill, and the men who have pushed so ardently for it in the name of protecting women, are not extreme.

"During debate on the House floor, Republicans voted against an amendment that would have blocked white supremacists and domestic terrorists from carrying without a permit."

During debate on the House floor, Republicans voted against an amendment that would have blocked white supremacists and domestic terrorists from carrying without a permit. Of course, “gang members” were already prohibited by the bill. House Republicans also voted against an amendment to prohibit people from carrying while intoxicated, a bill that Representative Jon Rosenthal filed last session and that (bewilderingly) gained no traction. Extreme to say the least. After a truly valiant effort by House Democrats, which was a very bright spot in this otherwise-dark session for me, the bill still passed in substantially the same form as the original. Sadly, most Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted against the safety of Texans.

"House Republicans also voted against an amendment to prohibit people from carrying while intoxicated...."

Next up was the Senate, where we were told several Senate Republicans wanted nothing to do with Permitless Carry and would not want to oppose law enforcement. Apparently it’s harder to tweet #BackTheBlue all the time when you vote against their safety instead. The hope was the Senate and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick would allow it to die, but that was just more wishful thinking. After intense pressure to appease a very small, but very loud group of extremists who make up the far-right base these days, Patrick and Abbott fought to ‘out-2A’ each other. They both declared themselves to be the more ardent lover of the Second Amendment and demanded that the bill land on Abbott’s desk, posthaste. To avoid some unpleasantness in existing committees, Patrick conjured an entirely new “Constitutional Committee” out of thin air for the express purpose of hearing and passing Permitless Carry.

"To avoid some unpleasantness in existing committees, (Lt. Gov.) Patrick conjured an entirely new 'Constitutional Committee' out of thin air for the express purpose of hearing and passing Permitless Carry."

This time, we refused to be ignored. One after another, Texans from all over the state explained why we cared enough to spend our day in Austin during a pandemic, knowing full-well it was hopeless. We implored them to be reasonable and acknowledge the fact that as Texas continuously loosens our gun laws, our rates of gun deaths consistently rise.

"As usual, we shared the hearing rooms with armed gun extremists who call us asinine names like “Mad Mommies” (which has a fun ring to it and I may steal), make sexist and anti-semitic comments, and snicker or scoff at our testimonies."

Men in Victory or Death t-shirts at Texas Legislature

As usual, we shared the hearing rooms with armed gun extremists who call us asinine names like “Mad Mommies” (which has a fun ring to it and I may steal), make sexist and anti-semitic comments, and snicker or scoff at our testimonies. They wear shirts that say “Victory or Death: No Compromise” and “F__ the Police." They cheer when lawmakers like Schaefer, Patterson and Schwertner say that guns are a “God-given right."

"...We care that 3,455 Texans die by guns every year....We care that 63% of female intimate partner homicide victims in Texas were killed by a gun. We care that guns are the second leading cause of death for Texas children and teens."

We go anyway because we care that 3,455 Texans die by guns every year. We care that the gun lobby succeeded in making gun safety the ‘Issue That Must Not Be Named’ in American politics for decades. We care that Americans were so scared in 2020 that we broke the record for most gun sales in a single year. We care that 63 percent of female intimate partner homicide victims in Texas were killed by a gun. We care that guns are the second leading cause of death for Texas children and teens. And we care that those children are traumatized by cowering in closets instead of feeling safe in their schools, or in their booster seats, or in the grocery store. And we will keep fighting because we refuse to ever accept it.

Liz Hanks, volunteer legislative lead with Texas Moms Demand Action, attorney, and mom to two tiny Texans

To fight with us, please text TEXAS to 64433 to sign a petition asking Governor Abbott to veto Permitless Carry.