When North Texas firearm instructors Spence Dixon and Curtis Van Liew offer free gun safety and legal update classes, they say nobody wants to come. The two are in the business of teaching people the necessary decision-making skills and legal know-how to get a License to Carry.
The sparsely attended refresher courses in Fort Worth are on instructors’ minds as they weigh the idea of letting Texans carry a handgun without a license, often called “constitutional carry,” or permitless carry.
“People that are in this mentality of a firearm think that all they need is the information they get from Hollywood, YouTube, Instagram and things that they can Google,” said Dixon of Defensive Solutions of Texas in Fort Worth. “If you can’t give away training, then something’s wrong with the mindset. Personal accountability... just doesn’t exist in our society anymore.”
Tossing out the permit currently required to carry a handgun in Texas has been floated by lawmakers in Austin in the past, but this legislative session the policy proposal has gained more traction than previous ones.
The Texas House of Representatives on April 16 gave final approval to House Bill 1927, which would allow anyone to carry a handgun as long as they’re not otherwise barred from doing so. Despite the House momentum, the bill is now in the Senate, where leadership says it may be stalled.
The legislation was met with cheers from supporters who say it’s their Second Amendment right to have a gun without a license, but opponents worry the legislation could create safety concerns and lead to handguns being carried by people uneducated about firearm laws.
North Texas firearm experts have mixed feelings about permitless carry.
Paul Michael, training director at Intrepid Shooting Sports in Fort Worth, supports the idea.
“Personally, I believe everybody under the Second Amendment has the right to bear arms,” Michael said.
But he also recognizes the need for training, and recommends people wanting to carry a handgun seek out education.
“If a person wants to carry permitless, without a license, that’s fine,” Michael said. “However, I highly recommend that they get training to ensure that they’re not just handling a firearm, but they know how to handle the firearm. Safety is always paramount, because that seems to be the issue these day.”
Bryan Rastok, marketing manger at Texas Gun Experience in Grapevine, agrees. The business is a proponent of “constitutional carry” but encourages continued training and education, he said.
“Owning a firearm, it is an individual responsibility, and anything that happens with that firearm, you’re responsible for,” Rastok said.
What’s in the permitless carry proposal?
The legislation as passed in the House does carve out areas where handguns are not permitted, including bars, sporting events and amusement parks. It also requires handguns be carried in a holster.
To get a handgun license in Texas, a person must be at least 21 and meet requirements such as not having a felony conviction, not being chemically dependent and not being delinquent in child support payments. Applicants submit fingerprints to DPS, go through a criminal history background check and take an LTC course like the ones taught by the North Texas instructors.
Those classes include portions where attendees learn about firearm laws and take a shooting proficiency exam. Without that information, people could find themselves in legal trouble, said Van Liew of Eagle Defensive Solutions in Fort Worth.
“What you’re going to have happen, more than likely, is innocent citizens pulling a gun to defend themselves in a situation where they’re not legally able to, and then end up in trouble with the law, maybe losing their livelihood or their freedoms, based on something that was misrepresented to them,” Van Liew said.
Rastok said fire arm instruction businesses will have to find ways to draw people in.
“I think the success of the industry will come from those who are proactive enough to make training and education excitable and relatable to the current market,” he said.
He thinks Texas Gun Experience would keep offering LTC classes, even if permitless carry passes. Michael said he’s already had people calling to cancel LTC classes because they think the course’s are no longer necessary given the legislation’s movement. He encourages people not to do that, as a LTC has benefits like reciprocal agreements with other states for Texans traveling across state lines.
“The people that come to that class, I will have 10 times more respect for those people because they’re showing that they want the knowledge, they want the information, they want to do it the right way,” Dixon said.
What’s next for permitless carry in Texas?
House Bill 1927 advanced from the House, but it still must pass out of Senate committee and on the Senate floor. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says it may not have the votes needed.
“If we have the votes to pass a permitless carry bill off the Senate floor, I will move it,” Patrick said in a Monday statement. “At this point we don’t have the votes on the floor to pass it.”
Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, said she would oppose the bill if it came to the Senate Floor. A spokesperson for Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said he’d support it as passed in the House. Spokespersons for Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, did not immediately return requests for comment.
Texas GOP Chairman Allen West has advocated for “constitutional carry.” Gov. Greg Abbott skirted the question when asked whether he supports carrying a firearm without a permit, according to KXAN in Austin and other news reports.
“I and my office, we are looking at all of these bills as they’re working their way through the Capitol,” Abbott said. “While we are working to see what happens with legislation like that, what I’m focusing on are the items that I listed as emergency items. Items that I talked about in my State of the State address.”
Abbott’s emergency items include expanding broadband access, preventing cities from “defunding” police departments, election integrity, and reform to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. He didn’t list permitless carry as an emergency item, though he did call on lawmakers to make Texas a “Second Amendment sanctuary state.”