Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Monday that the state Senate does not currently have the votes to pass permitless carry of handguns but that he will try to see if there is a "path" to change that.
The news from the Republican presiding officer of the Senate came days after the House approved a permitless carry bill, commonly referred to as "constitutional carry" by supporters.
"If we have the votes to pass a permitless carry bill off the Senate floor, I will move it," Patrick said in a statement. "At this point we don’t have the votes on the floor to pass it. I plan to meet with law enforcement who oppose permitless carry and with the [National Rifle Association] and [Gun Owners of America] who support it to see if we can find a path that a majority of senators will vote to pass."
In most cases, Senate bills require 18 votes from the 31-member chamber to be considered on the floor. There are only 18 GOP senators, so a permitless-carry bill would need the support of every Republican in the chamber to reach the floor — or at least one Democratic vote if any Republicans defect.
On Friday afternoon, one key GOP senator, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, suggested he may not be immediately supportive of the proposal. He told The Texas Tribune that his office was still researching the issue and he tends to support "just about all" bills related to gun rights, but the "system that we have now works." He said it was too early to say whether he would block the bill from coming to the floor or vote against it if it made it to the floor.
House Bill 1927 would get rid of the requirement for Texas residents to get a license to carry handguns if they are not already prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a firearm. The House gave final approval to the legislation on Friday morning in an 87-58 vote that included seven Democrats in support of it.
Supporters of permitless carry, including gun rights groups and conservative Republicans, argued the measure simply allows Texans to exercise rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment. Many Democrats, joined by some law enforcement officers and faith leaders in opposition, instead cited the need for stricter gun safety measures following the 2019 mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa. The debate over gun laws in Texas has emerged as a top issue this session as gun violence nationwide — including a shooting in Bryan on April 8 and another in Austin on Sunday — has reignited the longstanding debates over gun control.
The passage of the bill in the House last week was a notable development since such proposals have not made it nearly as far in recent sessions. House Speaker Dade Phelan’s predecessor behind the gavel, Dennis Bonnen, and his predecessor, Joe Straus, were resistant to the idea and especially chafed at the tactics of its supporters. Bonnen declared the proposal "dead" last session after a gun rights activist showed up at his Lake Jackson home to advocate for the proposal.
The Senate under Patrick is generally seen as the chamber more interested in pressing for hot-button conservative issues. But Patrick has has expressed reservations about permitless carry in the past. Ahead of the 2015 session, he said he did not think there was enough support among lawmakers or the public, a sentiment he reiterated in 2017 while citing law enforcement concerns with "anyone being able to walk down the street with a gun and they don’t know if they have a permit or not."
A permitless carry bill has also been filed in the Senate this session, but it was referred to a committee over a month ago and has not received a hearing yet.
Patrick's pronouncement drew skepticism from some permitless carry supporters who suggested Patrick could wrangle the votes for the proposal if he truly supported it. The Texas GOP chairman, Allen West, said in a radio interview Monday evening that it has "been the lieutenant governor that has not wanted [permitless carry] to see the light of day."
"Constitutional carry" is one of the state party's eight legislative priorities, and West said it would be "not acceptable" if the Senate watered down the House proposal. Speaking with Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty, West said the GOP activists who select the party's priorities "applaud ... what happened in the House, and they expect the same thing out of the Senate."
"We've never, ever had a constitutional carry bill pass on the House floor," West said. "Now that has happened, and so the onus now is upon the Senate to do it, and they really don't have a leg to stand on as to why they're not allowing it to happen."
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/19/texas-constitutional-carry-senate/.
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