TEXAS — There could soon be an historic vote in the Texas Senate on a bill that seeks to allow the permitless carry of handguns. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he is optimistic he will get enough votes. Patrick’s statements on a conservative radio show come as the Senate Committee on Constitutional Issues passed the bill Thursday on a party-line vote.
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"We are moving with all deliberated speed on this bill now, because now more than ever, Texans want to make sure that their Second Amendment rights are not only protected, but restored," said Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Bryan.
All five Senate Republicans on the recently formed committee supported the bill, which disappoints many who hoped after several mass shootings in Texas that the state would do more to increase safety.
Plenty of Texas high schools have a football field, but there is a particular one in El Paso that serves as a reminder for Clint Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Juan Martinez. He told Spectrum News 1 the presence of Javier Rodriguez is still felt across the district. At 15 years old, Rodriguez was one of the 23 people killed in the Walmart mass shooting in 2019.
“I just cannot imagine the pain, the agony of the mother, thinking of her son, basically, dead at Walmart, and her being unable to be there with him, you know, to hold them,” Martinez said.
Following the mass violence in El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott impaneled the Texas Safety Commission, which was made up of lawmakers, law enforcement leaders and activists. After being a part of Abbott's roundtable discussions, Martinez told us he was disappointed to hear state lawmakers are advancing a bill that would allow the permitless carry of handguns.
"It just remarkable for me to think that the answer to the violence is more access to weapons,” he said.
At the state Capitol Thursday, license to carry instructors, law enforcement leaders and officers and gun owners testified on House Bill 1927, which passed the Texas House earlier on a bipartisan basis. Supporters said the bill does not change rules concerning background checks or firearm purchases.
Felisha Bull, Texas deputy director for Gun Owners of America, told Spectrum News 1 she has been busy working with new gun rights activists on getting acquainted with testifying at the Legislature.
“People have been making their points known with their wallet over the past 18 months, you know, we've seen firearms and ammunition flying off the shelves. This is obviously something that they are passionate about,” Bull said. "We have people who have never been to the Capitol before who have contacted us saying, 'Hey, I want to show up and have my voice heard. How do I do this?' And that's really inspiring."
Patrick recently formed the Senate Committee on Constitutional Issues as a new avenue to move the bill forward. On Thursday he told conservative radio host Dana Loesch he is working on getting the votes to pass the Senate and reach the governor's desk.
"It's better for people to get there and be supportive of it, and I think we're making a lot of progress, and I think we'll be successful," Patrick said.
Sen. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, said he is choosing to stay hopeful that the Legislature will also advance more bills based on the state's recommendations following the El Paso shooting. As a House member, Blanco served on Abbott's Texas Safety Commission.
"What about the rights of life of individuals who are losing their lives at the hands of gun violence every day in Texas? There's got to be some balance. I think permitless carry bill does not balance those rights, so we'll see what happens. My hope is that there's some common-sense solutions," Blanco said.
Blanco filed six bills based on the action items laid out in The Texas Safety Action report Gov. Abbott's office published as a result of those meetings. The Senate so far has only passed one of Blanco's bills, Senate Bill 162. The proposal creates a criminal offense for lying on a background check when attempting to purchase a gun.
Schwertner said he plans on introducing several amendments to HB 1927 in the full Senate, including one that would ensure schools can prohibit carrying handguns on their campuses.
Back in El Paso, Martinez knows there is nothing that will bring Javier back. But moving forward, he believes the district has to make additional investments into security and protection of students, including physical barriers, cameras, and law enforcement officers.
“We don't need thoughts and prayers, what we need is for them to take the necessary action to protect our children," Martinez said.
Earlier this week, Abbott told a North Texas radio host that if a permitless carry bill does reach his desk he will sign it. This comes as the Texas House on Thursday also passed one of Abbott's priority bills that would make it so local and state police in Texas would not have to help federal authorities when it comes to enforcing federal laws on guns.