Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” That may be true for something great, but the Texas Senate today proved you can advance, without enthusiasm, a bill to legalize the open carrying of handguns by state sanctioned licensed holders.
The highlight of the debate was the moment when the Senate took up the bill by a vote of 20-11. Before the Senate changed its rules at the start of this session, that vote would have blocked the permitted open carry bill from coming to the floor. But it signaled that this likely will be a session for Democrats to debate without effect.
Overall, despite a public divide over the legislation, the Senate had less enthusiasm than the dress rehearsal of a high school musical. Perhaps that was because passage of open carry in the Senate is a foregone conclusion. Perhaps it was because this was not the constitutional carry bill that would allow anyone who can legally own a handgun to carry it however they want. (That’s the bill that had armed citizens showing off in restaurants and hardware stores.) Perhaps it is just because this only allows open carry for a 17-year-old old licensing law that did not result in the the streets turning into the Wild West as predicted when it first passed. As my colleague Erica Grieder notes in a story in the upcoming issue of Texas Monthly:
“As of 2015, only about 825,000 concealed handgun licenses (CHLs) had been issued (in a state of 27 million); most Texans are not, in fact, walking around with guns. Texans who do are apparently not predisposed to mayhem.”
Although outgunned in their voting numbers, Democrats arrived at the debate prepared with statistics and arguments against the bill. But even their best arguments had the appearance of either hyperbole or theater. At one point, Senator John Whitmire raised the specter of a mad man stealing a weapon from a license holder and killed dozens of children in the state Capitol. Senator Sylvia Garcia said the thought of a handgun openly carried in Houston frightens her, but she admitted keeping a shotgun at home for self-defense: “If a son of a gun comes into my house, I would use it, but that’s a different situation,”
Sponsoring senator, Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, apparently was so confident of his bill that he was unprepared to answer some basic questions. Estes opened by saying Texas is one of just six states without open carry, but then could not describe the laws in other states. When asked whether reciprocity agreements with other states would require their permit holders to have the same training as Texas licensees, Estes said, “I’m actually going to have to study that.” He also was unable to say how many CHL holders have had their licenses revoked for committing crimes, facts that are readily available on the Web site of the Texas Department of Public Safety. At one point, we he started to get cornered, Estes fell back on the defense, “I believe in freedom.”
Even the day’s final vote had that feeling of unmet expectations. On a 20-11 partisan vote, the Republicans could only achieve tentative approval of the bill. They lacked the votes to bring the bill up for final passage to the House. That will come today, probably before the Senate takes up the much more contentious legislation to allow CHL holders to carry their pistols on college campuses.
(Photo: Senator Craig Estes/By Marjorie Kamys Cotera | Bob Daemmrih Photoraphy)