I wrote a preview of the 84th Legislature for the February issue, and among my predictions was that Democrats should be stoical about the push to legalize open carry of handguns, because it’s a) not that big of a deal and b) such a bill would pass easily: Republicans have enough votes and Greg Abbott had already said he would sign it.
But by the end of the first day of session, my prediction was looking dubious. A group of advocates from Open Carry Tarrant County, advocating for their cause around the Capitol, confronted Rep. Poncho Nevarez in his office. In theory, they were asking for his support, but in practice, as is clear from a video of the encounter posted by the group’s leader, Kory Watkins, they were harassing him in personal terms because he told them, clearly and calmly, that he wasn’t planning to vote yes on the bill. As a result of their efforts, Watkins et al spurred the Lege to immediate action, which is more than many advocates can say: the next day the House approved rules letting members install panic buttons, so they could call for help in the event of such confrontations. The advocates had, somewhat poetically, shot themselves in the foot; it was probably still possible for the Lege to pass open carry, given how large the Republican majorities are, but there would be more resistance.
As of today, the effort might well be dead. At a Texas Tribune event this morning, Dan Patrick told Evan Smith that he doesn’t think there are enough votes to pass open carry in the Lege at this point, and, beyond that, that he wasn’t concerned about it: “Second Amendment rights are very important, but open carry does not reach to the level of prioritizing at this point.” Instead, he said, he—and by extension, the Senate—would prioritize issues like education reform and tax relief.
This was surprising, considering that Patrick has done nothing to ruffle conservatives during his first week on the job (although not surprising if you consider that Patrick has always been less predictably conservative than his rhetoric and persona would suggest.) It was also the most sobering one-two punch a conservative has dealt his own side since Giovanni Capriglione told the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party that he would support Joe Straus for speaker because Scott Turner couldn’t muster enough votes to win and, incidentally, wasn’t qualified for the job.
As in the Capriglione case, Patrick’s analysis was forceful because it was essentially pragmatic. After the Trib event he offered some more explanation on Facebook and in regard to the math, he said that there hadn’t been enough votes to pass open carry last session, and that at this point don’t appear to be enough votes in the House or the Senate this time around. That may be correct. I thought there were easily enough votes in both chambers before session started, if you add up the votes from Republicans who support open carry and the Republicans who aren’t going to vote against a base-pleasing gun bill when it gets to the floor. But those numbers have surely shrunk as a result of the way open carry advocates have pursued this; their behavior has been genuinely off-putting and, accordingly, provides political cover for Republicans who weren’t thrilled with the ideal in the first place.
Regardless, as lieutenant governor, Patrick has a figurative vote determining which issues come before the Senate. He effectively just voted no on open carry, and his explanation was totally fair. Patrick has always been clear and emphatic about his priorities. Open carry hasn’t been one of them, although he’s said that he supports it. And in a 140-day biennial session, no one can should fault him for prioritizing his stated priorities. If conservatives don’t like it, they should build a time machine and go vote for Jerry Patterson.
What conservatives should not do is attack Patrick, as many are doing in the comments section of his aforementioned Facebook post. This is bound to backfire. There’s no evidence, even now, that Patrick doesn’t support the Second Amendment—his point was about time management, not gun laws. And if conservatives want to argue that Patrick should prioritize what is, after all, a relatively minor change in Texas’s gun laws over his plans for bigger reforms in areas such as education, taxes, and border securtiy, they’re going to come across looking like OCTC guys (or like the Tea Partiers who spent two months trying to punish Capriglione for his similar comments): bizarrely entitled bullies with no sense of proportion. And they’re not going to win the fight, any more than they won the speaker’s race.