Texas House gives initial approval to ‘constitutional carry,’ which would allow people to carry a gun without a license

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Members of church security teams from across Texas gathered in Krugerville to get certified in church security and trained for an active shooter situation by the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management. Jan. 11, 2020. Credit: Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

The Texas House on Thursday gave an initial OK to a bill that would allow handguns to be carried without a permit, marking a win for gun rights activists who have for years pushed the measure at the Legislature but a blow to El Paso Democrats who have been fighting for gun safety measures since the 2019 massacre in their hometown.

The 84-56 vote came after several hours of some of the most emotionally charged debate yet this legislative session, with Democrats pleading to their colleagues to reconsider their position on the legislation.

House Bill 1927, spearheaded by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, would nix the requirement for Texas residents to obtain a license to carry handguns if they’re not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a gun. Texans under current state law must generally be licensed to carry handguns, either openly or concealed.

“This bill should be called common-sense carry,” Schaefer said as he laid out the bill Thursday. He described a scenario in which two women — one who had time and resources to obtain a license to carry and another who did not — went for walks in different neighborhoods, arguing that the latter did not feel safe or well-equipped to protect their family.

Early on in Thursday's debate, state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who serves as speaker pro tempore, pushed an amendment to the bill that would have effectively killed the legislation.

Moody, surrounded by other El Paso lawmakers at the House floor’s front mic, recalled the day of the El Paso massacre in August 2019, when a gunman killed 23 people. Moody said there has been no action in the wake of that mass shooting and others to prevent future tragedies.

“After those shootings .. there were roundtable discussions and stakeholder meetings and a lot of promises — and I was hopeful, members, even knowing the political realities, I was hopeful,” Moody said. “Members, I’m so tired of doing nothing. … When are we going to do something?”