WASHINGTON — On Sunday night, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that would allow residents to carry handguns in public for up to a week after a state or natural disaster declaration. The State Senate approved the bill, HB 1177, by a narrow vote of 16-15, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to vote against it. It now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for final passage.
Under current Texas law, a “license to carry,” or LTC, is required to carry a handgun either for concealed or open carry, though no such permit is required for long guns such as an AR-15.
The bill’s intent is to allow people to evacuate with their handgun in the event of a natural disaster by permitting them to carry handguns openly or concealed without an LTC, as long as they are legally allowed to own a firearm.
A summary of the bill from the nonpartisan House Research Organization explains that the bill would give Texans “the ability to take certain firearms with them in a mandatory evacuation without fear of breaking the law or being forced to leave handguns behind in vehicles or homes, where they could be at risk from looters.”
Opponents of the bill say that the bill could cause difficulties for law enforcement in the aftermath of a disaster. State Sen. Joan Huffman was one of three Republicans who voted against the bill. She told the Austin American-Statesman that the bill could create more problems.
“I think it’s really, really poor public policy that is not thought out,” Huffman said. “I think you are creating a situation which will be very difficult for law enforcement because, instead of having to deal with rescuing people or helping people, they have to deal with situations about how to confront someone with a gun.”
Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief, wrote in a tweet that the bill would “embolden” gang members, and he hoped that the governor wouldn’t sign it.
The bill’s proponents countered that Texans needed to be able to evacuate with their firearms when disasters struck, especially after large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, State Sen. Brandon Creighton, who sponsored the legislation, saw the risks of losing Texans’ firearms as a potentially avoidable “sacrifice.”
“Are we going to ask them to make another sacrifice when they already risk losing so much?” he said during Sunday debates over the bill.