Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) has referred two bills expanding the open carry of guns to committee, a crucial step needed before the legislation can reach the floor for debate and a vote. The move was announced Monday afternoon, a week after Patrick had made comments in an interview casting doubt about whether there was sufficient support for a bill allowing the open carry of handguns this session.
Gun rights have strong popular support in Texas, but open carry legislation seems to be following a particularly odd path to passage. Republicans dominate both the Texas House and Senate, and even a number of the Democrats favor gun rights. Governor Greg Abbott (R) reaffirmed his support for open carry when he made his transition team announcements the day after the election, vowing that if the Legislature sent an open carry bill to his desk, he would sign it, as Breitbart Texas reported.
However, some of the most vocal supporters of open carry have employed tactics that many have criticized as counterproductive. Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson (R), the author of Texas’ concealed handgun law, blasted the aggressive approach by groups like Open Carry Tarrant County (OCTC), calling them “nut jobs” and blaming them for pushing open carry “off the rails” in Texas. OCTC and other open carry organizations have demonstrated on the grounds of the Capitol frequently during recent weeks and their behavior during their visit to the office of Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevárez (D-Eagle Pass) led to the House appropriating funds for “panic buttons” to be installed in lawmakers’ offices.
In the context of these events, in an interview with The Texas Tribune, Patrick emphasized the importance of Second Amendment rights, but expressed uncertainty about if there were enough votes to pass open carry. “Second Amendment rights are very important, but open carry does not reach to the level of prioritizing at this point,” Patrick told the Tribune. “I don’t think the votes are there.”
Breitbart Texas‘ Bob Price followed up with Patrick’s Communications Director Keith Elkins about Patrick’s comments:
Elkins said Patrick was simply speaking factually about the current situation in the Senate regarding open carry bills. He said they would encourage people wanting the legislation passed to respectfully contact their Senators and Representatives and show support for the bills.
“If the votes are there, the Lt. Governor will bring it to the floor for a vote just as he is doing with SB11,” Elkins said. It is not uncommon, under Senate procedures, for a Lt. Governor to hold a bill until there are enough votes for passage. This keeps the bill from dying on the floor.
It seems that open carry supporters followed Elkins’ advice. Breitbart Texas confirmed that a number of Senate offices did in fact get calls from constituents voicing support for the passage of open carry legislation. Patrick’s press release announcing that he was sending the bills to the Senate State Affairs Committee noted that, “Over the past week the senators have been working hard to build support and I look forward to working on these 2nd Amendment priorities.”
The specific bills referred to committee were SB 342, which allows for open and concealed carry of handguns without a license, and SB 346, which would allow someone who has a license for a handgun to also openly carry a handgun in a holster. These bills approach the open carry issue differently, and it will now be up to the Senate to debate their various merits and determine what language will be acceptable to be incorporated into a final bill. Patrick has requested that SB 342 and SB 346, as well as SB 11, the campus carry bill, to be scheduled for public hearing as soon as possible. As Breitbart Texas reported, Patrick had already announced that SB 11 had enough votes for passage.
Patrick’s announcement was cheered by gun rights advocates in the Senate. Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), who was just elected to serve as Vice-Chairman of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus and sits on the committee that will hear the bills, is a joint author for SB 11, and had pledged to support the open carry bills. Creighton’s staff told Breitbart Texas that he was “steadfast” in his determination that a strong version of open carry would pass the Senate during this session.
“Anyone who cares about liberty and the Second Amendment should stand up and pay attention to what’s happening in the Texas Senate,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) in a statement provided to Breitbart Texas. “These three firearm bills, SB 11, SB 342, and SB 346, all seek to bring Texans closer to their God-given right to keep and bear arms which is why I’m supporting them. It’s great to see Governor Patrick quickly referring these important proposals to the State Affairs Committee.”
Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) was also glad to see the bills proceed. “Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has shown tremendous leadership on the Second Amendment by fast tracking open carry and campus carry this session,” Perry told Breitbart Texas. “I look forward to working with my fellow senators to decrease the government barriers to self-defense.”
The next step will be for the bills to be scheduled for public hearing before the Senate State Affairs Committee. Breitbart Texas will continue to follow this story.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.