The Texas State Capital dome can be seen through trees in Austin. The legislature passed a measure there that would enable people to carry handguns without a license. Governor Greg Abbott said he would sign it. Eric Gay / AP Hide caption
Eric Gay / AP
Eric Gay / AP
AUSTIN, Texas – Texas stands ready to lift one of its last major gun restrictions after lawmakers granted permission to carry handguns without a license, as well as associated background checks and training.
The Republican-dominated lawmaker approved the measure on Monday and sent it to Governor Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign it despite objections from law enforcement groups claiming it would endanger the public and the police.
Gun control groups also oppose the move, citing the state’s recent history of mass shootings, including those at an El Paso Walmart, a church in Sutherland Springs, and a high school outside of Houston.
Texas already has some of the loosest gun laws in the country and more than 1.6 million gun license holders.
Proponents of the law say it would allow Texans to better defend themselves in public and remove unnecessary barriers to the constitutional right to bear arms. After the bill is signed, Texas will join nearly two dozen other states that allow unregulated carrying of a pistol in any form and that are by far the most populous.
The National Rifle Association backed the measure, and a spokesman called it the “most significant” gun rights measure in the state’s history.
“A right that requires you to pay a tax or get a government permit is not a right at all,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.
In Texas, rifles can already be carried in public without a license. The measure sent to Abbott would allow anyone 21 years or older to carry a pistol as long as they have no violent crime convictions or other legal prohibition behind them. However, without the government background review currently in the licensing process, it would not be possible to weed them out.
The bill wouldn’t prevent companies from banning guns on their property, and state background checks on some gun purchases would remain in place. Texas has no state requirements for background checks on private gun sales.
Texas has allowed people to carry handguns since 1995 and has decreased the cost and training requirements for obtaining a license over the past decade.
Texas’s move to further relax gun laws weighed on El Paso lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Joe Moody, who gave an emotional speech on the floor of the house on Sunday night saying he was in rooms in which the governor and family members searched for loved ones Walmart filming in 2019.
The 2021 legislative session is the first time since the attack that killed 23 people, a session of the legislature.
Moody recalled that there were promises that the state would “take seriously” the safety of guns after the shooting. Authorities said the shooter targeted Mexicans in the border town.
“When the doors closed I heard a lot of promises,” said Moody. “I haven’t heard her since.”
Associated press reporter Paul J. Weber contributed to this.