Fans of the Second Amendment know that the Texas Legislature is often a maddeningly frustrating place. Despite having had solid GOP majorities in both houses for years, a strong pro-gun culture across the state, and even an experienced pro-2A lobbying force (in the form of the Texas State Rifle Association and GOA), pro-gun Texas laws often seem to take forever to be enacted.
For example, Texas was surprisingly late to the “shall-issue” party, and open carry and campus carry laws are only recent additions.
Much of the “problem” lies in the structure of Texas government. For those of you not familiar with the particular practices of the government of the Lone Star State, the Texas Legislature sits for only a single 140-day regular session every two years (unless the Governor calls a special session to address specific matters).
This and similar aspects of Texas’ post-Reconstruction constitution make it purposefully hard for the Legislature to pass anything (which on balance is probably a good thing).
Compounding the problem is a truly spineless state GOP leadership, which for years has allowed the Speaker of the Texas House (arguably the most powerful position in the state) to effectively be selected by Democrats rather than by a majority of the GOP House caucus. That’s resulted in a series of RINO Speakers whose Second Amendment support has been tepid at best.
The 86th Session of the Texas Legislature is now history. So, how did Texas People of the Gun fare?
First, the disappointing news. As previously reported, the Speaker of the Texas House is a declared opponent of Constitutional Carry, and used an incident involving a representative for Texas Gun Rights as the excuse to block consideration of such legislation.
Reasonable minds can debate whether TGR’s actions were wise/unwise /counterproductive, and whether the Speaker’s preexisting hostility had doomed the legislation from the start. But the bottom line is that Texas won’t be joining the trend toward permitless carry for at least the next two years.
Second is the “no news is good news” department. After the Santa Fe High School shooting, reports surfaced that a Texas “red flag” law might get serious consideration. Fortunately, after an outcry by numerous pro-2A organizations, both Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick pronounced any such legislation dead on arrival, and thus it went nowhere.
Indeed, with only one exception, none of the dozens of bills in the 86th Session that were opposed by the pro-2A community got anywhere close to passing. The sole exception was an appropriation of $1 million for an ad campaign to promote safe storage of firearms — and Gov. Abbott may yet use his line-item veto to strike this.
As such, the hopes of anti-2A forces that, as they were able to do in Florida, they might parlay a tragedy into some knee-jerk restrictions on gun rights were soundly crushed.
Third, despite the inherent inertia of the Texas legislative process, the Legislature did manage to pass a pretty good number number of pro-gun measures. Most of these fall into the category of shoring up existing Texas gun laws and preventing various state and private actors from circumventing them. (While some have been signed into law, some are now on the Governor’s desk, but there’s no indication that Gov. Abbott intends to veto any of them.)
HB 302 largely prohibits most residential landlords from prohibiting the otherwise lawful possession, carrying, and storage of firearms. In other words, the new law precludes the imposition of private gun control by clauses in a residential lease. For example, if your apartment complex is owned by a California or New York landlord who wants to virtue signal by prohibiting the legal possession or carrying of firearms on his Texas property, your landlord is now out of luck.
Similarly, SB 741 curtails the ability of homeowners’ associations to restrict firearms activities through restrictive covenants or neighborhood association rules. Because zoning is not prevalent in many parts of Texas, restrictive covenants (enforced by private homeowners associations) are widely used as the mechanisms to protect residential neighborhoods from commercial or other disconsonant development or activities.
While homeowners associations can be an effective way to preserve the character of a residential neighborhood, they also can become nanny-like organizations that prohibit their residents from all sorts of otherwise legal conduct. (Indeed, I’ve recently seen my own HOA consider imposing firearms restrictions that the proponents would never have been able to get enacted as public laws.)
Fortunately, SB 741 nips this emerging tactic in the bud: if it is otherwise legal for you to possess, store, carry, or even discharge a firearm, you can tell your HOA to pound sand if they try and stop or penalize you.
HB 3231 generally prohibits municipalities from imposing their own gun control or weapons laws, or to impose special restrictions on gun- or weapon-related businesses. (Sorry Austin liberals, but that dream you had of using your control of local government to imitate Pittsburgh and get around those icky Texas gun laws just went up in smoke.)
HB 1791 prohibits state agencies or other political subdivisions from prohibiting lawful carry on their premises (e.g., a state office can’t post 30.06 or 30.07 notices). (This does not, however, affect existing bans of weapons from courthouses, detention facilities, or other prohibited places.)
HB 1143 closed a potential loophole/ambiguity relating to storing a firearm in a vehicle parked on school grounds. Carrying on school property is still generally verboten, but a previous change in the law allowed a person to store his weapon in a locked vehicle parked on school property (so long as the weapon was not in plain sight).
The loophole was that the school district might be able to dictate how you had to store your not-in-plain-sight weapon (which could easily be defined in such a restrictive fashion as to effectively negate the right, and would largely have affected school employees). No more: school districts “may not regulate the manner in which the handgun, firearm, or ammunition is stored in the vehicle.”
HB 2137 allows most retired state and federal law enforcement officers to obtain a Texas License to Carry without having to complete the usual classroom training and range proficiency certification.
HB 2363 prohibits the state from forbidding the otherwise lawful possession or storage of firearms in certain foster homes (but allows the Commission to set certain minimum standards for safe storage of firearms in such homes)
SB 772 addresses the decision of a property owner not to post a notice under TPC 30.06 (concealed carry prohibited) or 30.07 (open carry prohibited). Under the new law, evidence that the owner did not post either such notice is inadmissible, and cannot form the basis for any claim of cause of action.
E.g., negligent discharge by a customer in a store hits a bystander; bystander sues store owner, claiming store owner did not post 30.06 / 30.07 signs and arguing that doing so might have prevented bystander’s injury. Under the new law, no claim and the evidence that store owner did not post 30.06/30.07 notices is inadmissible.
SB 535 removes the blanket prohibition from carrying in churches or other houses of worship. This was largely a technical change to the law, as an earlier change of the law already gutted the blanket prohibition by requiring a church, etc., to post a 30.06/30.07 notice if they wanted to prohibit carrying, and they still can do so if they wish.
SB 371 makes it legal to hunt feral hogs on private land (with the landowner’s permission) without a hunting license.
SB 506 was probably the biggest fight of the session on a gun-related bill, and passed the Senate at the last minute by a one-vote margin. Under this bill, when there has been a disaster declaration and an evacuation order, a person evacuating who is otherwise allowed to possess a handgun can carry without a permit for the week after the evacuation order.
Basis for the law was not to put gun owners in the position of having to decide whether to leave their guns behind (where they would be subject to theft/looting) or take them with them and risk arrest for illegal carrying.
So overall, no bad bills passed, and a good number of incremental improvements that make it harder for state and private actors to impose greater restrictions on firearms possession and carrying than state law authorizes. Thank you, Texas Legislature, TSRA and GOA.
Now if the Texas GOP will just follow its own state party platform (Planks 218, 220, 225) and quit allowing the other side to select the Texas House Speaker, maybe we can get some major pro-2A laws passed next time.