As the house raged on Thursday over the budget bill, a quieter debate unfolded in the legislature’s higher chamber between Senators Royce West and Glenn Hegar over a bill by Hegar that would require the Attorney General’s office to take legal action against counties or cities that attempt to regulate firearms or ammunition.
Currently, it is against state law for municipalities to adopt any regulation on the “transfer, private ownership, keeping, transportation, licensing, or registration of firearms, ammunition, or firearm supplies.” So while the state of Texas can tell you that you can’t carry a handgun on college campuses, the city of Austin has no authority to tell a CHL holder that they can’t carry a handgun while strolling South Congress.
That lack of legal authority caused Travis County commissioners to pull down a regulation they were considering that would ban gun shows from occurring in facilities owned by the county.
“State law prevents this court from doing much of anything on this issue,” Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said, according to the Austin American Statesman.
That didn’t stop Hegar, a Republican from Katy, from being concerned enough to file SB 987, a bill that further hinders the ability of municipalities to regulate guns—or, in West’s opinion, from playing into the national gun debate by putting forth a bill that singles out the firearm industry.
”I understand we’re at a point in time where we’re talking about gun issues on a national level, and even here in this chamber, but at this point in time we’re just sort of singling out that the AG can order an injunction on behalf of the firearms industry and not any other industry,” West, a Democrat from Dallas, said during the floor debate.
By Hegar’s own admission, the bill does single out gunmakers, but according to him, that’s only because state laws about guns are the only laws Travis County was attempting to flounce. If other counties were attempting to disregard other state laws, he wasn’t aware of them, Hegar claimed.
And while Hegar’s bill tweaks the state’s local government code to require the attorney general to take legal action against any municipality attempting to regulate firearms, AG Greg Abbott doesn’t seem to need any encouragement in this arena. On January 8, he tweeted “If Austin or Travis Co. try to ban gun shows they better be ready for a double-barreled lawsuit.”
Hegar’s bill, despite West’s objections, passed the Senate 24-6, with West and five other Democrats voting against it.
“If the AG sees something that a county or city is doing that violates a regulation of the state of Texas, then he should be able to go in and get an injunction. I mean, the reality is, this is just playing out the gun debate throughout the country, as opposed to what I think is sound policy,” West said after the vote.