Texas took a major step toward allowing the licensed open carry of handguns, with Senate approval Friday night after a fierce debate over restricting police powers to ask people carrying guns if they are legal.
The open carry bill was expected to easily pass the Republican-majority chamber but got tangled in a bipartisan move to add the ban on police from stopping people solely because they are visibly carrying a handgun.
The vote came less than a week after a biker shootout in Waco killed nine, an incident that was raised several times in the debate.
The bill still needs a final vote in the House, which passed a nearly identical version last month. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pledged to sign an open carry bill into law.
Supporters of the police restriction said it will prevent harassment of law-abiding citizens and racial profiling of minorities.
“If somebody is going to be profiled for walking around the streets of Houston or Austin with a gun, someone who looks like me is more likely to get stopped,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who is black.
Law enforcement groups argue police should be allowed to determine who is legally carrying a handgun. Several lawmakers noted the Waco shootout, where authorities said they rounded up more than 300 weapons, and worried the ban would lead to felons and those with mental health issues carrying guns without fear of getting caught.
“This is a mistake, and I think it’s a mistake the state of Texas will come to regret,” said Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.
Sen. Don Huffines, the Dallas Republican who amended the bill, said he was protecting law-abiding gun owners from unreasonable searches by police.
Open carry advocates, including Abbott, have pushed the bill as an important gun rights and self-defense measure. Gun control advocates and police in the state’s largest cities have concerns about public safety.
Before the open carry debate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said House leaders also promised to pass a bill allowing concealed handguns in college classrooms.
A spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus confirmed the campus carry bill will get a vote before the session ends June 1.
Texas has allowed concealed handguns since 1995 but is one of only six states with an outright ban on open carry. Texas has banned open carry for 140 years, a prohibition dating to the post-Civil War era that disarmed former Confederate soldiers and freed slaves.
The state has nearly 850,000 concealed handgun license holders under a process that requires classroom and gun range training, although lawmakers have lowered those standards in recent years.
Texas also allows the public display of long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, and open carry advocates have staged high-profile rallies at the Alamo and state Capitol. Concealed handguns are allowed inside the Capitol, where license holders can bypass metal detectors.