Texas Lawmakers Move to Drop Most Handgun Licensing Requirements

The bill would allow most adults over 21 to carry a handgun. Gov. Greg Abbott, who said he would sign it, called it “the strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history.”

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Texas lawmakers are poised to allow adults over the age of 21 to openly carry a handgun in public without a permit, a measure being hailed as a victory by gun rights advocates while critics said it would lead to an increase in gun violence.

The Republican-led State House and Senate gave final passage late Monday night to a measure that would do away with most existing licensing requirements, and Gov. Gregg Abbott has said he intends to sign it.

“The strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history. Let’s get it to my desk for signing,” Mr. Abbott said on Twitter days before the bill was passed.

Texas is one of at least 20 states to pass such legislation, making it easier to obtain and carry guns at a time when gun violence in cities across the country has been increasing at alarming rates. Texas has been home to some of the largest mass shootings in the nation, including a 2019 shooting spree at a Walmart in El Paso that left 23 people dead and a shooting in 2017 at a church in Sutherland Springs that killed 26 people, including an unborn baby.

Texas already has some of the least-restrictive guns laws in the nation. Gun owners must pass a background check, submit fingerprints, complete at least four hours of training, and pass both a written exam and shooting proficiency test before carrying a handgun.

If the measure is signed into law, nearly all of those requirements would be dropped for Texans 21 and older, though people with criminal histories that would bar them from owning a handgun under federal law would still be barred from carrying a weapon.

Legislators who supported the bill said it would reinforce the Second Amendment guarantees that allow Americans to bear arms and protect themselves.

“I think it is a bill that is the strongest bill I’ve seen in my legislative career regarding the rights of our Second Amendment,” the bill’s Republican sponsor in the Senate, Senator Charles Schwertner, of Georgetown, said Monday night on the floor.

One of the state’s Republican U.S. senators, Ted Cruz, also praised the legislation. “I applaud Texas legislators for passing this landmark legislation to make constitutional carry a reality and to protect the right of law-abiding citizens,” he said on Twitter.

More than a million Texans have handgun permits under existing law, and people carrying guns are a familiar sight around the state. Those carrying firearms have their own line to enter at the Capitol in Austin, while others wait through long metal detector lines. Many Texans carry guns to church, to work, to college campuses and in their cars.

Some Texas law enforcement officials argued strongly that lifting the existing restrictions would make their jobs more difficult. Ed Gonzalez, the sheriff in Harris County, the most populous region of the state, said it could return the state to the days of the “wild West.”

“Permitless carry does not make our community safer,” he said of the legislation. “Instead it increases the odds of deadly confrontation and puts the lives of first responders at even greater risk.”

There have not been signs of strong public support for such a substantial easing of gun licensing requirements. In a recent poll conducted by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune, nearly 60 percent of voters said adults should not be allowed to carry a gun without a permit or license.

Representative Joe Moody, a Democrat who represents El Paso, where the Walmart shooting occurred, pleaded with fellow legislators during the debate over the measure. He warned that the law could spread further violence in Texas.

“One day, a tragedy will come to your community,” he said. “I pray that it doesn’t.”

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