AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is closer than ever to allowing the permitless carry of handguns. In a historic 18-13 vote, Senate Republicans approved the measure after hours of debate Wednesday.
All Democrats voted against it. Just days ago, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he was still rounding up the votes, but it seems if there were some GOP senators on the fence.
They changed their minds after agreeing to several amendments like prohibiting those from carrying a handgun if they were recently convicted of deadly conduct or assault. It remains unclear what will stick in the final version that heads to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.
House Bill 1927, which already passed the lower chamber on a bipartisan basis, would authorize the ability to carry a handgun without a license. If Texas passes permitless carry, it would join at least 20 other states with similar legislation.
"People still need to understand gun laws, gun ownership, proper storage and proper handling of a firearm, in this case, a handgun, and I trust our citizens," said Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who is carrying the bill on the Senate side.
Proponents of the measure want to expand Texas law already on the books, largely allowing permitless carry of long-arm guns, as well as possession of handguns in homes or cars.
“This is not going to be a mad rush of people who don't have a gun today, run into the gun store to buy a gun to put on a holster and walk down the street. The vast majority, the people we're going to see with this are the people who carry every day in their car. They exercise the castle law," Sen. Drew Springer, R- Weatherford, said.
The bill's supporters said the proposal does not change provisions regarding the purchase of handguns and who is called to carry in the first place. In order to obtain a license to carry, Texans must be at least 21 years old, not be convicted of a felony, and not be "chemically dependent."
"I would say this is a matter of life and death for some individuals," Schwertner said during a line questioning by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas.
"I understand that that that's your feeling and sincere conviction, can't they just get a permit?" Johnson said in response.
But those arguments around responsibility offered little assurances to the Democratic lawmakers around safety.
"What's a law-abiding citizen look like?" asked Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. "This is a serious question. You keep saying we're restoring constitutional privilege, privileges and rights to law-abiding citizens. Well, unfortunately, not everyone is a law-abiding citizen."
Senate Democrats also pointed to concerns of some law enforcement officials about telling the difference between who is or not illegally carrying.
"I want to know that if they draw that gun, they know what they're doing with it, and I know that the police officers across the state of Texas want to understand that," Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Fort Worth, said.
Compared to the Texas House, senators amended the bill even more. It contains limitation on those convicted of certain misdemeanors in the last five years and increased penalties for those convicted of family violence. These were changes that likely added supporters to the bill and led to the ultimate passage in the Senate.
"I am really worried about that, I am really worried about our domestic violence victims," Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said.
If the House objects to the Senate's changes, there will be a joint committee with members of both chambers who will meet to hammer out the differences.