By Lauren McGaughy
The Texas Senate on Sunday night narrowly approved a bill that would allow Texans to carry their guns for up to a week after a natural disaster.
House Bill 1177 passed by a vote of 16-15 and now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature or veto. If it becomes law, any Texan who can legally own a firearm would be able to carry their handgun, open or concealed, for a full week after a state or natural disaster is declared.
Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, one of the three Republicans who voted against it, raised concerns that the bill was dramatically expanded from the version the Senate debated earlier this year to one that could present real problems for police working after a hurricane or other disaster.
"It's really, really poor public policy that is not well thought out," said Huffman, a former judge. "It is not solving a problem. It is creating a problem."
Under current law, Texans who can legally own a firearm don't need an additional license to openly carry a long arm, like a AR-15. However, to carry a handgun openly or concealed, Texans must get a "license to carry," which requires taking a course, performing a shooting test, passing a background check and paying a fee.
Gun owners asked for these license rules to be loosened after Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in 2017. Gun control groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America oppose the bill, but the NRA supported it, saying it would allow Texans to protect themselves and their property from being looted after a hurricane or other natural disaster.
Beaumont GOP Rep. Dade Phelan's bill, as originally filed, would have allowed people to carry for a full week after a natural disaster. But its Senate sponsor, Brandon Creighton of Conroe, later changed it to 48 hours. The bill was changed back to one week late last week, when a conference committee of 10 lawmakers met to hash out the final version of the bill. Huffman and Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, did not sign off on the changes.
Creighton said he didn't suggest these changes but urged the Senate to accept them before lawmakers finish the 2019 session Monday.
"We don't have much time to do much else," Creighton, R-Conroe said, adding that he respected Huffman's opinion.
"I would say you obviously do not," she shot back, joking that she still had the option to filibuster the bill.
All 12 Democrats, along with Republican Sens. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, voted against the bill.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a tweet that he hopes Abbott doesn't sign it.
"We experienced one of the worst disasters in Texas history during Harvey," he said. "The World watched as we all came together. This bill wasn't needed then & isn't needed now. This will embolden 20,000+ gang members & will not help LE."
The Texas Legislature has taken up only a few other gun bills this session. In addition to this natural disasters bill, Abbott will also be tasked with determining the fate of bills to remove the blanket prohibition against guns in churches and lift the cap on the number of school employees that can be armed while on campus.
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