Packing a hurricane survival kit? Make sure to bring water, food, flashlights, batteries and… guns?
Texas is about to legalize open carry of firearms for a full week after a natural disaster.
State lawmakers narrowly passed a controversial bill Sunday that would allow licensed gun owners to carry their weapons — open or concealed — for seven days during a state of emergency. The change would even apply to bars and shelters if the operators of those premises choose to authorize the practice.
Supporters of the bill argue the change would provide clarity for lawful gun owners evacuating their homes during a natural disaster.
“Texans should have the ability to take certain firearms with them in a mandatory evacuation without fear of breaking the law or being forced to leave handguns behind in vehicles or homes, where they could be at risk from looters,” lawmakers in favor of the proposal said in a statement.
Opponents say the bill would pose a public safety concern and place an additional burden on first responders during an already stressful time.
“It is not solving a problem. It is creating a problem,” state Sen. Joan Huffman, one of the few Republicans who opposed the legislation, said moments before the vote Sunday. “I think you are creating a situation which will be very difficult for law enforcement because instead of having to deal with rescuing people, or helping people, they’re going to have to deal with these situations of how to confront someone who’s walking around with a gun.”
The proposal, approved in the state Senate by a vote of 16-15, now heads to the governor’s desk.
One of the sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Brandon Creighton, said the seven-day exemption is needed because parts of Texas were under a state of emergency for as many as five days when Hurricane Harvey ripped through the region in 2017.
Currently, Texans are not allowed to carry a firearm in public or have it in plain view in their vehicle unless they have a license to carry and do so in a shoulder or belt holster. It is also a crime in that state to carry a handgun on certain premises, such as churches, schools and hospitals.
Under the proposal, those restrictions would not apply if a licensed gun owner carries a handgun during a mandatory evacuation under a state of emergency or while returning to the evacuated area. Gun owners would also be allowed to carry their weapons in places designated as shelters as long as the person operating those premises authorizes the practice.
Supporters say the bill provides flexibility for shelters and property owners to set their own rules.
“Because the bill would allow shelter operators to decide whether to allow citizens to bring their handguns into the premises or not, property owners’ rights would be protected,” they said in the statement.
Huffman, citing the crowded shelters during Harvey, said it was wrong to give shelter operators an additional responsibility.
“I think about the chaos that was around a lot of these shelters and the thought that there are going to be people showing up with guns who are not necessarily permit holders… it seems preposterous to me,” she said.