Texas Lawmakers Always Fight About Guns. This Legislative Session Will Be No Different.

Dec 4, 2018

During the weeks leading up to next session of the Texas Legislature, we're examining some of the state's most pressing issues – and the bills lawmakers have filed to address them.

First up, guns. 

Two of the worst mass shootings in the state's history have taken place since the last legislative session – one in a Sutherland Springs church that left 26 dead and 20 injured; another in Santa Fe High School that left 13 dead and 10 injured.

After the Santa Fe shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott held days of roundtable discussions with parents, students, law enforcement and lawmakers, which culminated in a list of 22 ideas to help combat gun violence in Texas. While some of those proposals have the backing of Abbott and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, others face a harder road this legislative session.

Red flag laws

So-called red flag laws would give courts the ability to remove guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Several states already have the laws and, while Gov. Abbott suggested Texas might need to be the next state on that list, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has said the Senate won't pass the bill.

Bills to watch

  • HB 131 and SB 157 – State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and state Sen. José Rodriguez (D-El Paso) filed bills in the House and Senate to allow courts to issue protective orders to prohibit an individual from owning, possessing or using a firearm – if that person's deemed a danger to himself or others. Family members, prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement officers can apply for the protective orders, and a judge may deem it necessary to restrict access after an examination from a mental health professional.

Parental liability and safe-storage of guns

The issues of both liability and storage of firearms by parents came under scrutiny following the Santa Fe High School shooting in May. The 17-year-old shooting suspect allegedly used a .38-caliber pistol and a shotgun owned by his father to fatally shoot 10 people and injure 13. While Texas has a so-called child-access law that penalizes adults who allow children to get a hold of firearms, both gun safety and gun rights advocates say aspects of the law could be tightened up.

Bills to watch

  • SB 158 and SB 204 – The identical, bipartisan bills from state Sen. José Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would raise penalties for allowing a child access to a firearm. Under the bill, an adult could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if a child is found in possession of their firearm. If that child harms him or herself, or another person, it would be a state felony.
  • HB 302 – State Rep. Dennis Paul (R-Houston) also filed a bill that would amend state law to clarify rules for carrying firearms on residential and commercial rental properties.

'Constitutional' carry

Texas allows for the concealed carry of handguns and the open carry of handguns, if owners have a license.

The state also allows for the open, unregulated carry of long guns, like the assault-style weapons like the AR-15 – meaning, you don't need a license.

Gun rights advocates have wanted the state to extend that same privilege to handguns for the last couple of years.

Currently, you have to register and take a training class to get a license to carry a handgun. But there's a push this session to eliminate that license altogether. It's a cause that state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) has fought for in the both the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions.

Bills to watch

  • HB 357 State Rep. Jonathan Stickland filed a bill that would eliminate the state's license to carry requirement, meaning anyone over the age of 21 who isn't prohibited by the state. 

3D-printed guns

Central Texas became a focal point for gun rights earlier this year, when Austin-based startup Defense Distributed attempted to release blueprints for untraceable, 3D-printed guns online. At first, the State Department blocked the release, then it rescinded its objections. Then attorneys general from 19 states and Washington, D.C. successfully blocked the release, though, thousands of files were released before Defense Distributed was blocked from disseminating them – for now.

However, that block wasn't final – it was a temporary injunction – so, the trial will continue at some point.

Bills to watch

  • HB 38 – State Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburgh) filed a bill that specifically targets the so-called ghost guns, making it illegal to own a firearm that doesn't have an individual serial number.

Protection against federal gun laws

You read that right. There have been bills filed to protect Texans against federal gun laws. This could be a reaction to the newly elected U.S. House, which Democrats will control in January. The point of these bills are to block federal gun restrictions from affecting Texas, namely what Texans can attach to their guns and how those accessories are distributed.

State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) authored two bills to seemingly enshrine state protections on firearms, accessories and ammunition. 

Bills to watch

  • HB 227 – This bill would exempt certain firearms and accessories from federal oversight within the state.
  • HB 238 – This bill would pull state money from counties and cities that comply with federal gun laws – if they curtail access to firearms or accessories.

Correction:

An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed two of the bills to Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin). They were authored by Sen. José Rodriguez (D-El Paso).