(news) gun policy

Texas has taken another step towards joining the other 44 states in the country that allow guns to be carried openly.

Making good on its promise to prioritize gun legislation, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted Thursday, February 12 to allow the open carrying of handguns. The “open carry” bill passed with a vote of 7-2 down party lines. Open carry refers to carrying a handgun in plain view in a holster and without the concealment by a garment.

The two nay votes cast were by Democratic Senators Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. When asked why she voted the way that she did, Zaffirini replied, “I voted against open carry in the Senate State Affairs Committee hearing because I believe that the bill as crafted will create a less safe environment. It is opposed widely by law enforcement officers whom I know and respect. They testified that the law would make it harder for them to respond to critical incidents and ensure public safety.”

“If we can have concealed handguns, I think that’s sufficient and we shouldn’t take it any farther. What good will come of it?” said Freshman political science major Christina Hunter. “I support the Constitution and 2nd Amendment rights and if the majority of Texans want open carry then I can support it.”

Support for open carry legislation has been on the Texas Republican Party’s platform for many years. Republican Chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee Joan Huffman stated, “Clearly the Republicans are all very strong proponents of the Second Amendment — we’ll always have that in mind as we make these decisions. But it’s a balancing act.” One proposition made to achieve this “balance” was by Houston’s Assistant Police Chief, Dan McKinney, who asks lawmakers to consider boosting the training requirements and holster standards in the open carry bill.

The bills, which have failed in the past two legislative sessions, follow Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s recent promise to champion legislation that expands Texan’s 2nd Amendment rights. Governor Greg Abbott has said that he will sign a bill permitting either licensed or unlicensed open carry if it reaches his desk. Even Senator Zaffirini, who voted against the bills, believes it will reach his desk, saying, “The Senate is likely to pass the open carry bill.”

Thursday’s hearing attracted a passionate group of people. Among the dozens who testified were survivors of the mass shootings at UT Austin in 1966 and Virginia Tech in 2007, who expressed their opposition to the laws. Countering them were gun rights advocates who spoke of their “God-given rights” and the Constitution.

“We are talking about law-abiding citizens who want to exercise their rights,” said Committee Chairwoman Joan Huffman in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. “It’s a matter of letting people, if they so choose, protect themselves in a legal way,” she continued.

Tensions are high surrounding such a contentious issue as gun rights and the political climate has become increasingly hostile. Upon reaching out to Representative Roland Gutierrez, whose district is in San Antonio, one of his aides, Margaret Wallace, expressed her concerns over the heated atmosphere: “It makes a lot of offices very nervous, myself included. The gun rights supporters are very gung-ho and very aggressive. We have all had to be more alert because it’s a very emotional issue. Someone was arrested and taken out in handcuffs.”

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