A bill to let gun owners legally carry handguns without obtaining a state-issued license is dead after an activist, upset that the measure had stalled, was met last week by state troopers outside the Lake Jackson home of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Bonnen, a Republican who was elected Texas House speaker in January, said Friday that the activist’s “gutless intimidation tactics” exposed no-license carry as a bad idea, dooming the legislation.
“I could no longer watch as legislators and their families are incessantly harassed by fanatical gun-rights activists who think laws preventing criminals from carrying a gun should be repealed,” Bonnen said in a written statement.
“Their goal is to eradicate sensible gun policies by allowing anyone to carry a gun without a license and proper training — making it impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between law-abiding gun owners and criminals,” he said. “The fear and terror used to push this agenda has made it clear this is bad public policy.”
Bonnen’s statement came after The Facts, a Brazoria County newspaper, reported that Department of Public Safety troopers stopped Chris McNutt, executive director of Texas Gun Rights, in Bonnen’s neighborhood on March 27.
Bonnen was in Austin, overseeing a marathon House session on the state budget, but his 14-year-old son was home at the time and his wife and other son were returning home from Austin.
In a video posted March 27 on Texas Gun Rights’ Facebook page, McNutt said he was in Bonnen’s House district to advocate for “constitutional carry,” the right to legally carry a handgun without a state license.
McNutt criticized Bonnen’s selection of Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, as chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Committee chairs decide which bills get a hearing, the first step toward a potential floor vote.
“He is the one that appointed an anti-gun Democrat to chair the committee responsible for this bill, so ultimately the fate of this bill rests squarely on Bonnen’s shoulders,” McNutt said in the video. “He needs to be held accountable for his actions.”
McNutt defended his actions and accused Bonnen of deliberately overreacting in a statement emailed to Hearst Newspapers.
“If politicians like Speaker Dennis Bonnen think they can show up at the doorsteps of Second Amendment supporters and make promises to earn votes in the election season, they shouldn’t be surprised when we show up in their neighborhoods to insist they simply keep their promises in the legislative session,” McNutt said.
The author of the legislation, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, said Friday he was canceling his request for a committee hearing on House Bill 357.
“The issue is of great importance to me, but I refuse to act like it is still a possibility and continue to provide false hope to my constituents,” Stickland said in a written statement.
In a video posted Friday on Facebook, Stickland said he was “saddened by the acts of a few individuals that have stolen the conversation about legislation that I deeply care about.”
“There is never a time or place to physically threaten an elected official with violence,” he said. “It’s never OK to target their homes or personal businesses when you know they are not in town.”
To legally carry a handgun in Texas, either in an open holster or concealed, gun owners must acquire a license to carry from the DPS or from a state with a reciprocity agreement with Texas.
Applicants must pass a background check and complete a four- to six-hour course that covers firearms safety, weapons laws and nonviolent conflict resolution. Applicants also must pass a written exam and show proficiency at a shooting range. A license costs $40.
Supporters of constitutional carry say they should not have to apply for a license, or get state permission, to use a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Opponents argue that a license to carry a handgun improves safety and helps ensure, particularly for law enforcement, that armed individuals are legal gun owners.
The debate over gun laws can be passionate at the Capitol.
In 2015, with looming debates over bills to let firearms be openly carried in holsters and carried concealed in university buildings, Nevárez and advocates for constitutional carry engaged in a tense confrontation in the House member’s Capitol office.
Subsequent threats prompted the DPS to assign troopers to Nevárez and his family, but the incident did not hinder the legislation, and bills allowing open carry and campus carry were later approved. Nevárez voted against both measures.
In 2017, a first-ever committee hearing on two constitutional carry bills, including one by Stickland, drew more than 100 witnesses. The committee approved the other bill, filed by Rep. James White, R-Hillister, but it was never scheduled for a floor vote in the House.
© 2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
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