AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas bars and sporting events, from the state high school basketball tournament to a Sunday afternoon game at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, would be open to concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons under a bill pending before a House panel.
The measure by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, effectively would roll back most of the state's restrictions on where Texas' more than 500,000 concealed handgun license holders can carry their weapons. Current law bans concealed weapons at sporting events, amusement parks, bars, hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, schools and places of worship.
Private property owners still would be able to ban weapons if they post a sign, but Springer's bill would make gun-proud Texas vastly more open to concealed handguns.
"CHL for everywhere," Springer told the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Thursday, noting license holders can bypass the metal detectors at the state Capitol.
"We're comfortable enough we give them an express pass," Springer said. "The time has come."
Springer, a first-term lawmaker and concealed handgun license holder for the past eight years, says the current restrictions have created gun-free zones that he says makes them more vulnerable to people wanting to inflict mass casualties. They leave concealed handgun license holders without the ability to protect themselves, he said.
Texas has allowed concealed handguns since 1995. Bars and sporting events were carved out as exceptions to avoid a potentially volatile mix of guns and alcohol or to keep them out of events where emotions can run high, such as football or basketball games between rivals.
"It was the old adage that guns and alcohol don't mix. It was an image of wild west saloons and biker bars," said Charles Cotton, a firearms instructor and board member of the National Rifle Association who testified in support of Springer's bill.
Alice Tripp, legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association, dismissed the idea that sporting events stir violent passions that could lead to gunfire.
"This isn't South America. We don't have soccer (riots)," Tripp said.
Springer said Texas should trust license holders to behave responsibly with their weapons and that statistics back him up.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, concealed handgun license holders in 2011 had a drastically lower rate of committing crimes than the general population. Records showed that concealed handgun license holders were convicted of 37 cases of assault of 2011, compared with more than 32,000 among the general population. Overall, concealed handgun license holders were more than 15 times less likely to commit a crime than the general public.
"We have proven that people who have their CHL are law-abiding citizens, they take their responsibility very seriously. They know that if it ever happens, the day they have to pull that gun out, their lives change forever," Springer said.
Springer's bill was left pending in committee without a vote, and its chances of passage are uncertain with five weeks left in the legislative session. It is just one of several being pushed by gun rights activists seeking to expand privileges of concealed handgun license holders. Earlier Thursday, the Senate approved a bill that drastically reduces the training hours required to get a concealed handgun license.
That bill by first-term Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, cuts the training requirement from at least 10 hours to at least four hours. Training would still cover gun safety, gun storage and dispute resolution. Applicants would still have to pass firing range tests.
The concealed handguns bill is HB 3218: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=83R&Bill=HB3218
The concealed handguns training bill is SB 864: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=83R&Bill=SB00864