Abbott signs open carry, campus carry into law

Gov. Greg Abbott signed campus carry and open carry laws into effect on Saturday.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed campus carry and open carry laws into effect on Saturday.

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (AP/KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott stopped at a gun range to sign into law bills letting Texans carry concealed handguns on college campuses and openly carry them virtually everywhere else.

Abbott was at Red’s Indoor Range in Pflugerville Saturday morning. He says the laws mean Texans can be sure their Second Amendment rights will be stronger and more secure than ever before.

The Republican made expanding gun rights a top priority of his first legislative session as governor.

Texas was one of the few states that doesn’t already allow licensed residents to wear handguns holstered, or otherwise in plain sight.

The “campus carry” bill passed despite staunch opposition from leaders of the state’s top universities — but includes a concession allowing schools to carve out “gun-free zones.”

‘Campus carry’

The Texas Legislature on May 31 approved allowing license holders to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses — but included a caveat that lets college presidents designate “gun-free zones.” The House voted 98-47 to approve the measure, sending it to Abbott to be signed into law.

The so-called “campus carry” bill was a priority for gun rights activists, even though top universities statewide opposed it. Both chambers previously passed their own versions of the bill, and a weekend agreement between House and Senate negotiators set up final approval.

Opponents won the concession of gun-free zones, though college presidents won’t be able to ban handguns on entire campuses. In order to obtain a concealed-carry license, though, Texans must be 21 — meaning many college students won’t qualify.

‘Open carry’

Texas lawmakers on May 29 approved carrying handguns openly on the streets of the nation’s second most-populous state, sending the bill to Abbott, who immediately promised to sign it and reverse a ban dating to the post-Civil War era. Gun owners would still have to get a license to carry a handgun in a visible holster.

The state known for its “Wild West,” cowboy history and some the nation’s most relaxed gun laws, has allowed concealed handguns for 20 years. Concealed handgun license holders are even allowed to skip the metal detectors at the state Capitol, as state troopers providing security assume they’re armed.

But Texas was one of only six states with an outright ban on so-called open carry, and advocates have fought to be allowed to keep their guns in plain sight. Cast as an important expansion of the Second Amendment right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution, it became a major issue for the state’s strong Republican majority.

The House gave final approval on a mostly party-line 102-43 vote, drawing gleeful whistles from some lawmakers. A short time later, the Senate passed it 20-11, also along party lines, with all Republicans supporting it and all Democrats opposing.

The bill passed after lawmakers made concessions to law enforcement groups, who had been upset by an original provision that barred police from questioning people carrying guns if they have no other reason to stop them.

The final bill scrapped that language, meaning police will be able to ask Texans with handguns in plain sight if they have proper licenses.

Gun control advocates have argued that open carry is less about personal protection than intimidation. Gun rights groups have staged several large public rallies in recent years, sometimes at notable historical landmarks such as the Alamo, where members carried rifles in plain sight, which is legal.

Just like the current concealed handgun law, the bill requires anyone wanting to openly carry a handgun to get a license. Applicants must be 21, pass a background check and receive classroom and shooting range instruction — although lawmakers have weakened those requirements since 2011.

Texas has about 850,000 concealed handgun license holders, a number that has increased sharply in recent years.

It also recognizes the concealed handgun licenses issued in more than 40 states, and license holders from those states will be allowed to openly carry their weapons in Texas once it becomes law.

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