After years of balking at what some Second Amendment advocates call the Holy Grail of gun laws, a new bill passed by Republicans in the Texas Legislature this year went into effect on Sept. 1 allowing Texans to carry pistols without a license.
Known by supporters as “constitutional carry,” House Bill 1927 allows Texans 21 and over to carry handguns — openly or concealed — without obtaining a state-issued license, so long they are not excluded from possessing a firearm by another federal or state law.
Previously, Texans who wanted to carry a pistol needed a state-issued license that required training, a proficiency exam and a background check.
Supporters of the law argue the changes “restore” Second Amendment rights, removing virtually all government barriers to carrying a handgun in many public places.
“H.B. 1927 seeks to reduce barriers to the free exercise of Texans’ constitutional right to bear arms and defend their lives and property by making it legal for individuals who are 21 years of age or older and who can legally possess a firearm to carry a handgun without first obtaining a license,” an analysis of the bill from the Senate Research Center reads.
Opponents say the law removes barriers aimed at keeping people who are not legally fit to possess a gun from carrying one. They also say it will increase gun violence and escalate conflicts in public places.
Police unions from most major Texas cities and several handgun instructors opposed the law when it was introduced, saying it makes it more difficult for police to identify suspects from bystanders during an active crime scene.
Though the bill became law, it was amended in the process. Here’s a breakdown of how constitutional carry impacts Texas and what the limitations are:
What the law change
Previously, Texans had to obtain a license to carry a handgun, either openly or concealed. The license requires up to six hours of training, a written exam and a shooting proficiency exam. Prospective licensees also currently have to submit their fingerprints and pass a background check to obtain the permit.
Now, Texans no longer need that licensing to carry a handgun. A background check, however, is still required for the purchase of a firearm.
“This is a simple restoration of Texans’ constitutional right under the Second Amendment, a right of the people to keep and bear arms,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who sponsored the legislation.
Handguns were the only type of firearm that required a state license to carry in most public places in Texas. Long guns like shotguns and rifles, including semi-automatic rifles, were and still are allowed to be openly carried in most public places in Texas without a license.
Obtaining a firearms license still has its advantages, though. A handgun license would allow the carrier to have reciprocity in other states that have enacted that kind of legislation. A license is also considered a valid form of ID when casting a ballot and grants expedited access into the Texas Capitol.
Where you (still) cannot carry
There are certain public places firearms are not allowed, even under constitutional carry, unless you are a licensed peace officer. Those include:
- Bars and other businesses that make 51% of their receipts from alcohol
- Sporting events and horse or dog races
- Polling places
- Jails and prisons
- Government buildings
- Federal property and national park buildings (that includes the San Antonio Missions and The Alamo)
- Private businesses or land in which the owner has signage posted outlawing weapons
The politics and compromise
Permitless carry has long been a fringe issue that most mainstream, elected Texas Republicans fell short of endorsing, which is why it has failed to pass the GOP-controlled Legislature for several sessions. That group included Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
This year, though, so-called constitutional carry was listed as one of the Republican Party of Texas’ legislative priorities heading into the session and ultimately received backing from conservative leadership. That followed years of lobbying from Second Amendment activists and precedes the electoral threat of pro-gun GOP primary voters in 2022.
To get the legislation passed, some changes were made in response to concerns from law enforcement.
Initially, the bill banned police officers from questioning a person on the sole basis that they were carrying a pistol.
But lawmakers compromised, amending the bill to now allow officers to question and disarm a person “at any time the officer reasonably believe it is necessary for the protection of the person, officer or another individual,” according to the bill. The officer has to return the handgun if the person is deemed not to be a threat and if the person hasn’t committed a violation that results in an arrest.
The lawmakers also agreed to enhance criminal penalties for domestic violence offenders and felons who are caught carrying a handgun.
A growing trend
Texas joins 19 other states that have passed constitutional carry laws, though they vary slightly from state to state.
Other states that have passed similar legislation include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. Vermont is the only state that has historically had constitutional carry because the state has never enacted any carry bans.
Texas, however, is now the largest and most populous state to enact constitutional carry.
Alaska was the first state to rescind its permit requirement, passing constitutional carry in 2003.