Public Safety Committee vice chair wants ban on open carry of semi-auto rifles

Texas state troopers erect a barricade to control traffic near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after a fatal shooting, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
Texas state troopers erect a barricade to control traffic near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after a fatal shooting, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Sunday a man walked across the street of Sutherland Springs, Texas carrying a semi-automatic rifle, entered a local church, and killed 26 people and wounded just as many.

Now, the number two on a Texas committee charged with tackling issues like this wants to reverse decades-old state law allowing the open carry of long guns in public.

“I don’t even think it’s improper to carry a gun to church. I wouldn’t do it because it’s church, but if you want to do it that’s fine, I mean, conceal it. But the carnage you can bring with a long rifle, particularly a semi-auto is a lot different,” said Vice Chair of the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass.

State Rep. Nevarez called for the changes because the shooter didn’t do anything illegal that day until he entered the church and shot at the congregation. He says that creates a situation where “good guys with guns” don’t have enough time to react.

“It needs to be not normal for somebody to be running around with a long rifle,” said Nevarez.

KXAN reached out to the chair of the committee, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and have not yet heard back.

Nevarez made the announcement at a press conference hosted by Texas Gun Sense in the Texas Capitol flanked by several advocates and other Democratic lawmakers.

In 2015, state lawmakers made it legal to carry a handgun openly in the state. A major argument to passing that law was that it didn’t make sense to ban handguns when people could already open carry a long rifle or semi-automatic.

AR-15s and other weapons are often on display during 2nd Amendment rallies by gun rights advocates. A major supporter of measures to allow the open carry of firearms in Texas is CJ Grisham, president and founder of Open Carry Texas.

“I’m tired of both. I’m tired of shootings just like the gun control crowd is. I want these to stop just like the gun control crowd. The irony here is we both want the same thing,” said Grisham. “The problem is we have different ideas on how to fix it. I don’t think the way to fix it is to focus on the object. We are completely missing the point here.”

Grisham says lawmakers should focus on the intentions of the shooter — domestic abuser, dishonorably discharged from the military — not the weapon he used to kill people.

In the last few days, Republicans have been calling for action as well.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas announced he would push for a new law to strengthen the background check policy across the nation. The shooter in Sutherland Springs was not able to get a Texas license to carry but was able to purchase an AR-15 at an Academy store.

Texas Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has called for state leaders to create a blue-ribbon commission to study gun violence in the state of Texas and propose solutions.

KXAN reached out to Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott and none of them have returned a request for comment on the idea of a commission.

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