House committee approves modified permitless carry legislation

After a similar bill failed at the Capitol in 2015, a measure that would allow Texans to carry a firearm without a permit could be headed to the full Texas House.

The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday approved a modified version of House Bill 1911 by state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, by a 6-2 party line vote.

The original version of the bill would have let anyone 18 or older carry a firearm in Texas without a permit. The version approved Tuesday bumps up the age to 21 and adds other restrictions already in place for concealed carry permits — such as having no felony convictions.

HB 1911 also no longer conflicts with campus carry, a measure the Legislature passed in 2015 that allows concealed handgun license holders to carry a firearm on public university campuses in the state.

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Tuesday’s vote saw some caution from lawmakers on the panel, while others said the measure didn’t go far enough.

State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said the modified HB 1911 was “too restrictive” and didn’t capture the “ultimate intent” of constitutional carry. But he said he backed the bill because he wanted to see the issue advance this legislative session.

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the committee’s chairman and a former police officer, said he still had “grave concerns” about the proposal, adding that lawmakers needed to ensure the bill wouldn’t affect law enforcement’s ability to do their job.

State Reps. Alfonso Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, and Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, voted against the proposal. Hinojosa said she was “concerned that [HB 1911] will make it hard for our law enforcement officers to do the job we entrust them to do, which is to keep us safe.”

According to the Legislative Budget Board, White’s bill would cost the state more than $37 million through August 2019. And while HB 1911 wouldn’t eliminate the state’s license-to-carry program, the board estimates applications for a license and renewal to carry would decline by 90 percent in fiscal year 2018.

HB 1911 is the latest gun-related measure to advance this legislative session. In March, the Senate voted out a bill that would lower license-to-carry fees — a House committee also approved the measure. Another one that would allow emergency first responders to carry while on the job passed out of the House Homeland Security & Safety Committee in March.

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HB 375 by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, another permitless carry measure that would allow anyone 18 or older to openly carry a handgun without a license, was left in committee Tuesday after King suggested the bill needed changes before it could move forward.

King said he’d talked to Stickland about his bill and wasn’t sure if Stickland would alter his legislation. 

Stickland quickly responded to King’s comments in a tweet shortly after the committee vote: “I’m not going to water [HB 375] down. [King] knows that.”

The Senate doesn’t have a similar bill allowing Texans to carry firearms without a permit, but state Sen. Don Huffines said in March he was “eagerly awaiting the opportunity to sponsor” such a bill in the upper chamber, adding there was “no better way to advance liberty this session.”