House Bill 1177 by Rep. Dade Phelan will allow people without a handgun license to carry pistols in public --- openly or concealed --- for a week after a disaster is declared. The reasoning behind the legislation was that gun owners won't have to leave their firearms behind when evacuating their homes. Existing laws, however, allow gun owners to store them in their vehicles, with some conditions.
After the original bill carried in the House, the Senate amended the bill to narrow the window for carrying a concealed handgun to 48 hours after a mandatory evacuation order, rather than a more general disaster declaration.
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, objected to conference committee changes that adopted the House version of the bill, editing out changes negotiated in the State Affairs Committee that she leads.
The Senate easily passed their new version 23-8.
But when the Senate's take on the policy got kicked back to the House, they passed a version 91-52. That conference committee backed the one-week, no-permit period instead of 48 hours in the Senate version, removed a provision requiring concealed carry and gave emergency shelters the authority to allow weapons on site.
While the Senate version would have allowed no-permit carry only during a mandatory evacuation, the final version of the bill loosened the rules during emergencies declared by the governor.
Opponents say Phelan's bill could add firearms to an already volatile situation in disaster-struck areas. In opposing the bill, Sen. Huffman cited "strong law enforcement objection" to the bill from "individuals who didn't have an opportunity" to voice their objections. She called it "poor public policy that's not well thought out." Noting that she was "as pro-Second Amendment as anyone," she said she felt that the policy was "not solving a problem, it is creating a problem."
HB 1177 passed the Texas House on a 91-52 vote and was approved by a one-vote margin in the Texas Senate before being sent to Gov. Greg Abbott. All 12 Senate Democrats voted against it, joined by Republican Sens. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Joan Huffman of Houston.