AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas would allow people to carry a handgun without a license, and the background check and training that go with it, under a measure approved by the state Senate on Wednesday.
Texas already has some of the loosest gun laws in the country and has more than 1.6 million handgun license holders. Lawmakers have reduced classroom and shooting range training requirements over the last decade, but had been reluctant to eliminate the license requirement altogether.
That changed over the past few weeks with a push from the right wing of the Legislature’s Republican majority over the objections of law enforcement and gun control groups. If it becomes law, Texas would join nearly two dozen states that allow some form of unregulated carry of a handgun but it would be the most populous by far.
The state House has already passed a similar version of the bill and the two chambers will have to negotiate differences before sending it to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he'll sign it into law.
The Senate added several provisions Wednesday, including enhanced penalties for felons caught carrying guns illegally, and barring permitless carry for someone convicted of making a terroristic threat or disorderly conduct with a firearm.
Texas already allows rifles to be carried in public without a license. The proposed bill would allow anyone 21 or older to carry a handgun provided they had no violent crime convictions or some other legal prohibition in their background. But there would be no way to weed them out without the state background check.
The bill would not prevent businesses from banning guns on their property, and federal background checks for some gun purchases would remain in place. Texas has no state restrictions on private gun sales.
Supporters of the bill say it would allow Texans to better defend themselves in public while abolishing unnecessary hurdles to the Constitutional right to carry a gun.
“This bill does nothing but protect the right to protect ourselves,” said Sen. Donna Campbell, a Republican.
Law enforcement groups warn that eliminating the license requirement and its background check will make the streets more dangerous.
Several Senate Democrats noted the state's recent history with mass shootings, most notably at an El Paso Walmart, a high school outside of Houston and a church in Sutherland Springs.
“This bill is not a form of justice or liberty,” said Sen. José Menendez, a Democrat. “It’s going to be responsible for creating a path for more gun violence.”