Rights come with responsibilities.
Texas senators should bear that in mind this week when they consider legislation that would allow handguns to be carried in public without a license or state permit.
Supporters of the legislation are calling it the “Constitutional Carry” bill, asserting that the U.S. Constitution allows the carrying of weapons — without restrictions.
That’s where the new bill splits from laws already on the books in the state.
Texas has legalized concealed and open carrying of weapons in public, but gun owners are required to pass a criminal background check, receive training in safety and gun laws and show proficiency in firearms use before obtaining a state-issued permit.
Under the proposed legislation — House Bill 1927 — any resident age 21 or over, with the exception of felons, would be eligible to carry a firearm, with no permit or training required.
Granted, many Texans take their firearm ownership seriously, and have taken the proper steps to ensure that they store, carry and use them safely and lawfully.
That fact is borne out by the fact that the advent of concealed carry and open carry laws have produced few negative consequences for the public or law enforcement.
But permitless carry is a whole different ballgame, for a variety of reasons.
For one thing, not knowing who is trained and licensed to carry a handgun would put law enforcement officials at an extreme disadvantage. The Houston police association rejects the bill — unless several amendments are added — and the police chiefs of Austin and Houston have spoken in opposition to the proposed legislation.
Another key issue is safety. Without proper gun law awareness, training and proficiency, gun owners under the new law could be at risk to themselves and to others.
Would it make any sense to allow people who have never driven a car to walk onto a lot, purchase a vehicle and drive away — without first having to pass a driving test or obtain a license?
Of course not. The consequences would be too great, both for the car buyer and those who encounter the unprepared driver in traffic.
Why would anyone consider untrained, unlicensed gun ownership a smarter proposition?
Apparently, our local legislators don’t have a problem with the idea. All three of the Killeen area’s state representatives — Republicans Brad Buckley of Salado, Hugh Shine of Temple and Shelby Slawson of Stephenville — voted to approve HB 1927.
The local area’s state senator, Republican Dawn Buckingham of Lakeway, had made it clear that she supports the bill as well. And her support may be crucial to the measure’s success.
After 11 hours of public testimony at a Capitol hearing last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced the Senate will vote this week on whether to send the bill the Senate floor. According to Senate rules, 18 votes are needed to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration, and 16 votes are needed for passage. Of the Senate’s 31 members, 18 are Republicans and 13 are Democrats.
In other words, all 18 Republican senators would have to vote in favor of moving the bill to the Senate floor. However, as of Friday, Patrick said only about 12 had come out in support of advancing the bill. Still, that number is nearly double the number who supported the bill just two weeks ago.
It’s quite possible that amendments added in the Senate version could bring the bill more support.
Some of the proposed amendments include stricter penalties for felons violating the handgun law; creating a prohibition for carrying a handgun while intoxicated; removing the $40 handgun licensing fee; and requiring the Texas Department of Public Safety to create a free, online handgun safety course.
If the Senate approves the bill with amendments, it would have to go back to the House for final approval before going to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature.
Proponents of the legislation argue that the state must not only protect but “restore” the rights of gun owners.
That’s all well and good. But what about ensuring that the state’s gun owners also fulfill their responsibilities?
The constitutionally established and protected freedoms of speech, assembly and the press all are tempered with legal limits and obligations. The same holds true of the right to keep and bear arms.
Restoring gun rights may be a laudable goal, if that means removing restrictions that unfairly impact economically disadvantaged citizens, such as licensing and permitting fees.
But doing away with licensing altogether would hamper law enforcement’s ability to trace weapons used in a crime, spot illegal gun ownership and quickly identify a trained handgun owner.
Given the concerning number of shootings that have occurred in the Killeen community over the past year, is it a good idea to adopt a law that could potentially make our law enforcement officers’ job harder?
It’s true that 20 states have adopted similar laws, but many of these are western states with largely rural populations. Just because other states have gone to permitless carry doesn’t make it a good fit for Texas, which is home to three of the largest urban areas in the nation.
This is not the time to make such a significant change to our state’s gun laws — especially when our established laws governing concealed and open carry seem to be working well.
If we are committed to putting our law enforcement officials in the best position to keep our communities safe, we simply cannot afford to do away with criminal background checks, mental health background screenings, as well as mandatory training and licensing for gun owners.
Texas has a long and proud tradition of honoring and upholding our nation’s Second Amendment rights. That tradition must not be discarded or diminished.
But a bill that promotes gun rights at the expense of oversight and safety is of questionable value.
It simply misses the mark.