Brian Birdwell, a Texas state senator who sponsored one of the two god-awful gun bills being greased for quick passage in Texas, said in debate on one of the bills that he was standing up for “rights that are granted from God.”
He’s hardly the only lawmaker in Texas who is convinced that gun rights are God given.
As one of my colleagues in ministry said on Facebook, “I must have missed that in seminary.”
Sen. Birdwell and the other legislators who believe this kind of theology would make some good ayatollahs.
Militant proponents of open-carry laws went around to lawmakers’ offices the other day and made such threatening and intimidating comments to those opposing their “God-given rights” to carry that legislators have since installed panic buttons in their offices.
What would Jesus think?
Here’s the story from The Houston Chronicle’s Austin Bureau reporter Lauren McGaughy:
AUSTIN – Sporting a pair of red, white and blue patent leather “freedom boots,” Amy Hedtke sat for hours in the Senate hearing room Thursday before her two minutes at the mic to urge state lawmakers to summon the fortitude to pass unlicensed open carry.
Earlier, the now-seemingly ubiquitous gun activist Kory Watkins promised fierce primary challenges to any Republican who opposed it, while Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia argued the opposite, stopping just short of calling the proposals an unfunded mandate on local law enforcement.
But while the sometimes rancorous nine-hour hearing prompted more than 100 people to pack the state Capitol on Thursday to voice their opinions on the Lone Star State’s gun laws, the fate of “historic” open carry and campus carry bills was all but decided before the first witness even sat down.
As expected, the Senate Committee on State Affairs approved both proposals by a partisan vote of 7-2.
The only dissenters were Democratic Sens. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo and Rodney Ellis of Houston.
Senate Bill 11 by Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry on college campuses. Senate Bill 17 by Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, would legalize the open carry of handguns with a license. Under current law, it’s legal for Texans to openly carry long arms like rifles, but the same has not been true of handguns for more than 125 years.
Both now are headed to the Senate floor, where the Republican-dominated chamber will hear a spate of amendments expected to add restrictions to the proposals.
First time passed in Senate
Thursday’s vote was historic, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, marking the first time an open carry bill has passed in the Senate, and if approved by both chambers it will serve only to underline the rightward shift the Legislature took after last year’s election.
“I made a promise to help pass both open carry and campus carry and have worked hard on the issue,” Patrick said in a statement late Thursday. “We are now one step closer to passing these two historic bills out of the Senate.”
While the final vote tally was expected, the public testimony often was quite the reverse, with opponents conjuring images of the Wild West and pro-gun activists demanding lawmakers give Texans back their “God-given rights” to bear arms.
Watkins, the controversial leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, made an appearance sans his signature trilby hat and told Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike he and his group would seek to oust them if they voted to require Texans to pass a background check and secure a license to open carry handguns.
“I will walk around until my feet bleed to make sure you’re never an elected official again,” said Watkins, who has gained state and national notoriety – and elicited plenty of criticism – for his controversial tactics in pushing unlicensed open carry, what advocates call “constitutional carry.”
Much of the debate over the two bills, however, was marked by less-inflammatory rhetoric. Early in the day, top law enforcement officials disagreed over Estes’ bill, with Garcia and Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo raising concerns with both bills and Sheriffs’ Association of Texas President A.J. Louderback of Jackson County supporting them.
Legalizing the open carry of handguns “is going to deplete me from responding to an already growing community,” said Garcia. “Law enforcement already has great challenges with limited resources.”
Acevedo made a veiled reference to the open carry groups who packed the room when he said “it’s a very small but vocal community that supports it,” urging lawmakers not to “assume that noise equates to support.”
Campus shooting survivors
Most of the higher education leaders and college students who testified before the committee also had concerns about the bills, citing the unique campus environment that already encourages heightened emotions and fears. Claire James, née Wilson, a survivor of the 1966 University of Texas at Austin tower shooting, also spoke against allowing concealed handguns on campus.
“I was never able to bear children again,” said James, who was eight months pregnant when former Marine Charles Whitman shot her through the belly on that fateful August afternoon. Virginia Tech alumnus Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 shooting perpetrated by Seung-Hui Cho, also spoke against the bill.
At the urging of Patrick, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp also weighed in on the proposal. He broke with precedent by saying he wouldn’t personally be concerned if campus carry was passed, and confirmed the system would take no formal stance on the bill.
New UT System Chancellor William McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL and former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, has taken a decidedly different stance on the issue, sending a formal letter to top leaders that the bills would make college campuses “less safe.”
At the conclusion of the hearing, the senators agreed to amend Birdwell’s bill. If both bills are passed and signed into law, the amendment would ensure open carry is still banned at colleges and universities.
NRA lobbyist Tara Micha said the national gun rights group agreed with that decision: “I would agree with what Sen. Birdwell said that it has never been our intent with concealed carry on campus bills to sneak through open carry on campus.”
With an increasingly conservative state Legislature, both bills are likely to pass this session. Even the committee’s Democrats noted the probable outcome. Ellis, joking about halfway through the day-long hearing, said his status in the political minority would mean he would likely be packing if the proposals prove successful.
“If it does pass, I assure you I will be open carrying,” he said. He then urged his colleagues who vote against his bills to arm themselves as well, to a few uncomfortable chuckles.