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Texans May Soon Be Allowed To Carry Handguns Without Training Or A Background Check

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Texans will soon be able to carry a handgun without a permit or the background check and training that a permit requires. So-called constitutional carry passed a final hurdle in the Texas legislature Monday night. And Governor Greg Abbott has promised he'll sign the bill. Texas Public Radio's Dominic Anthony Walsh has more on how people are responding.

DOMINIC ANTHONY WALSH, BYLINE: The state's Republican-dominated legislature is cheering the bill's passage as a great success, a follow-through on a core part of the Texas GOP platform which calls for opposition to any and all restrictions on legal access to guns. Charlotte Eisenhower is the vice chair of the Bexar County Republican Party.

CHARLOTTE EISENHOWER: We believe that those increases the amount of people who are law-abiding citizens that are carrying firearms.

WALSH: The permitless carry legislation did, however, cause a rift between police associations and the GOP, usual allies. Law enforcement groups largely came out in opposition, saying it will make police officers' jobs more dangerous. But Eisenhower says the measure will allow people to defend themselves when officers take too long to respond.

EISENHOWER: Of course we respect what law enforcement says, but, you know, it's a difference of opinion.

WALSH: The portrait of a law-abiding citizen fending off violent criminals is central to the GOP's support for the measure. But as Johns Hopkins professor Daniel Webster points out, everyone is law-abiding until they aren't. Webster directs the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.

DANIEL WEBSTER: I think that's the most important thing to underscore that in many cases, yes, truly generally safe law-abiding people are getting more so-called rights to carry guns around. But the same is true for a subset of individuals who frankly aren't so law-abiding and safe, and we should be troubled by that.

WALSH: He says gun violence tends to go up in states that make it easier to get guns.

WEBSTER: In those states, the people who get arrested and incarcerated for committing violent crimes with firearms, most of them before they committed those crimes were actually legal gun owners.

WALSH: Constitutional carry has expanded rapidly. Assuming Governor Greg Abbott signs the legislation, Texas will join Iowa, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Tennessee in removing or loosening permit requirements just this year alone. Support for the permitless carry legislation in Texas was predictably polarized, with the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll last month showing a majority of Republican respondents in favor compared to 85% of Democrats against. El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego says he's concerned the new permit less carry law would make communities less safe.

RICARDO SAMANIEGO: You want to make sure that people are mentally healthy enough to be able to have a gun. You want people to register. You want people, you know, that need the training. You want to do everything you can to avoid what happened.

WALSH: A racially motivated gunman targeted a Walmart in his county, killing 23 people in 2019. That same year, another gunman killed seven and injured two dozen others in Midland and Odessa. State Senator Cesar Blanco, who represents the area, spoke to his colleagues on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAMANIEGO: This is the first session since the shootings at Walmart, since the shootings in Odessa. And we heard from our constituents that they want solutions.

WALSH: The legislature did pass a separate bill in response to those mass shootings, and Governor Abbott signed that into law. Texas will soon have a statewide alert system to warn residents when there is an active shooting.

For NPR News, I'm Dominic Anthony Walsh in San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.