While thousands of NRA members were in Houston celebrating the Second Amendment at the gun lobby’s Annual Meetings and Exhibits, the Texas House got busy on Saturday approving a dozen or so pro-gun bills, leading lawmakers to dub the session ‘Gun Day.”
Most of the measures were tentatively approved by simple voice votes, but several sparked heated debate, including one that would legalize campus carry and another that would render any new federal gun laws unenforceable within the Lone Star state’s borders.
Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Tomball), the sponsor of the guns on campus bill, argued that his measure is a compromised version that gives colleges and universities more autonomy on whether to permit or prohibit concealed carry for persons 21 and older.
Under current law, colleges can already approve concealed carry – Texas A&M University System has done so – but this proposal would give public universities the ability to opt out (or in) and private universities the ability to opt in (or out) on an annual basis.
“I did not file this bill for [concealed handgun license] holders so they could be heroes in mass shooting situations,” Fletcher said.
“Those incidents are rare, but gun owners should have a right to protect themselves against harm,” he continued. “Colleges and universities are not crime-free zones,” he said.
A key portion of the measure would also reduce penalties for gun owners who carry concealed on campuses where firearms are banned. Instead of being slapped with felony charges, the gun owner would be subject to non-criminal disciplinary measures, e.g. fired, expelled, suspended, etc.
With respect to the other controversial bill, known as The Firearms Protection Act, it was approved but only after a contentious exchange.
The Firearms Protection Act, which is not unique to Texas as other states have passed or introduced similar measures in recent months, essentially places a ban on federal gun bans.
Invoking states rights under the 9th and 10th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the FPA asserts that the federal government does not have the authority to regulate intrastate commerce.
Under the language of the bill, any federal agent that attempts to enforce a federal gun law or confiscate firearms manufactured, sold or kept within the state’s borders would face felony charges.
“There are 27 amendments in the Constitution but only one says ‘shall not be infringed,’” said Rep. Steve Toth (R-Woodlands), the bill’s author. “The Second Amendment is the amendment that keeps the people free.”
However opponents of the FPA vehemently disagreed, arguing that the bill violates the U.S. Constitution and, consequently, amounts to nothing more than political posturing.
“This bill is not about the Second Amendment, this bill is about … a political statement that we don’t like President Obama, that we don’t like what’s going on in Washington and we can go back home and say we took it to the president,” said Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington).
Turner contended that laws passed in Washington apply to “not part of the country — all of the country,” adding that the money it would take to defend this flawed legislation in a federal court would be a waste.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for someone’s political statement,” he told the Associated Press.
Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) was more succinct in her critique. She twitted, “In case your head is too thick to understand: State law will not trump federal law.”
As for the other laws that were briefly debated and approved, pending further procedural votes, The Dallas Morning News released this list (which includes 13 bills, not 12. Fox News and the AP have reported 12 bills. It’s not clear at this point where the overlap is, but Guns.com is working on it figuring it out):
1. Lower the number of classroom hours required to take to receive or renew a concealed handgun license from 10 to four. (HB 47)
2. Allow concealed handgun license holders to renew online. (HB 48)
3. Reduce the renewal fee for a concealed license for discharged veterans, certain peace officers and state employees who use a gun for work, such as prison guards, from $140 to $25. (HB 485).
4. Impose a penalty for agencies that improperly display a “no firearms” sign that could incorrectly subject concealed-permit holders to charges. (HB 508)
5. Allow applicants seeking a concealed handgun license to submit their fingerprints digitally only if a facility to process those exists within 25 miles of their home. For those farther away, the Department of Public Safety would have to establish procedures to get those fingerprints. (HB 698)
6. Require the Texas Department of Transportation to post signs along highways that schools are in the area so that individuals hunting nearby do not fire bullets across the property line of the schools. (HB 801)
7. Allow concealed gun license-holders to bring firearms into university buildings if the school chooses to let them. It would remove the criminalization of those license holders who bring guns into buildings, previously a third-degree felony. Schools would have to define rules for bringing firearms into sporting events, and for the securing of weapons in university housing. (HB 972)
8. Create a school marshal position for public schools. The marshal would be trained extensively and have access to a locked weapon. (HB1009)
9. The bill would seek to Exempt Texas from certain federal laws that would regulate firearms or ammunition. (HB 1076)
10. Penalize concealed handgun license holders who intentionally display their firearm instead of intentionally failing to conceal it as the current law states. (HB1304)
11. Make it a criminal offense for a state or federal law enforcement official to enforce federal legislation curtailing gun rights if that legislation is deemed unconstitutional in federal court. (HB 1314)
12. Allow an applicant for a concealed handgun license to refrain from giving their Social Security number to the Department of Public Safety. (HB 1349)
13. Allow a seized weapon not returned or claimed by the owner to be sold at a public sale. Only a licensed federal firearms dealer could purchase the weapon, and proceeds would go to the law enforcement agency that seized it. (HB 1421)
If all clear the House, they’ll head to the state senate for consideration, where they’re expected to face tougher opposition as pro-gun control forces begin to mobilize.
“We have been watching closely, and anticipated that this would happen [in the House], therefore did not spend much energy in the House,” Bridget Sharphorn of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told The Dallas Morning News.
“But we are ready to focus on the Senate. And then there will be elections,” she said. “Moms will not forget.”