The wait is over, and concerns that big city police chiefs might be able to scuttle the signing of Constitutional Carry legislation in Texas turned out to be unfounded. Gov. Greg Abbott put pen to paper on Wednesday, officially signing the state’s permitless carry legislation into law.
Now, that doesn’t mean that Texans can start carrying without a concealed carry license right away. The law officially goes into effect on September 1st, and I suspect that police departments in cities like Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio will be enforcing the existing carry laws until 11:59 p.m. on August 31st.
Still, September will be here soon enough, and Texas will officially become the 21st state in the country where most legal gun owners can both keep and bear arms without a government permission slip. It’s a huge step victory for Second Amendment advocates, particularly given the fact that permitless carry wasn’t on a lot of folks’ radar when the legislative session kicked off in January.
Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans who were initially non-committal about the bill were under immense political pressure this session from conservatives and gun rights advocates, who have long lobbied the Texas Legislature for permitless carry but historically struggled to win support.
Before approving the bill, the Senate tacked on several amendments to address concerns by law enforcement groups that opposed permitless carry, worried it would endanger officers and make it easier for criminals to get guns.
The compromise lawmakers reached behind closed doors kept intact a number of changes the Senate made to the House bill, including striking a provision that would have barred officers from questioning people based only on their possession of a handgun.
The deal also preserves a Senate amendment enhancing the criminal penalties for felons and family violence offenders caught carrying. Among other Senate changes that made it into the law was a requirement that the Texas Department of Public Safety offer a free online course on gun safety.
I’ll be honest; I have no problem with the amendment that increases the penalties for prohibited persons caught carrying, and I like the idea of the Texas DPS offering a gun safety course online. The amendment that allows police to question people simply for carrying a firearm, however, gets a big thumbs down from me. It’s not enough of a poison pill amendment to scrap permitless carry entirely, but I sincerely hope that provision is challenged in court.
In fact, at least one state has already determined that stopping someone merely for having a concealed firearm is a violation of the Constitution.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in the Allentown case of Michael Hicks, who was spotted on a surveillance camera either putting a gun into his waistband or adjusting his garments around it in the early-morning hours in June 2014. He walked into a convenience store in Allentown with the outline of the gun visible through his shirt. Hicks returned to his car, and police stopped him before he could exit the parking lot.
It turned out that Hicks had a valid license to carry a concealed firearm. But police detected an odor of alcohol, and when they searched Hicks, they said they found a small bag of marijuana in his pocket. Hicks was charged with driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. He was convicted only on the DUI count.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said the investigatory stop was not justified under the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio. That case allows police to stop and frisk a person based on a reasonable suspicion that a person is involved in criminal activity and could be armed and dangerous.
The Pennsylvania opinion doesn’t apply in the state of Texas, obviously, but here’s hoping the Texas Supreme Court issues a similar finding if and when it hears a challenge to this onerous amendment to an otherwise excellent permitless carry bill.
I’m not one to let perfect be the enemy of good, and I’m genuinely thrilled that Gov. Abbott has now signed Constitutional Carry into law. This is a huge victory and marks a major step forward in the fight for the right to carry in all 50 states. Congratulations to all the Texas gun owners and Second Amendment activists who made it happen, and I hope your success will spur other states to do the same in the months head.