The Republican-dominated legislature approved the measure on Monday, sending it to Gov. Greg Abbott, who said he would sign it over objections from law enforcement groups who say it would endanger the public and the police.
Gun control groups also oppose the measure, noting the recent history of mass shootings in the state, including those of a Walmart in El Paso, a church in Sutherland Springs and from a high school outside of Houston.
Texas already has some of the most flexible gun laws in the country and has more than 1.6 million handgun licensees.
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Supporters of the bill say it would allow Texans to better defend themselves in public while removing unnecessary barriers to the constitutional right to bear arms. Once signed into law, Texas will join nearly two dozen other states that allow some form of unregulated handgun carrying, and will be by far the most populous.
The National Rifle Association was among those supporting the measure, and a spokesperson called it the “most significant” gun rights measure in state history.
“A right that requires you to pay a tax or obtain government authorization is not a right at all,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA’s Legislative Action Institute.
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Texas already allows rifles to be transported in public without a license. The measure sent to Abbott would allow anyone 21 years of age or older to carry a handgun until they have been convicted of a violent felony or other legal prohibition in their background. But there would be no way to eliminate them without the state background check currently in the licensing process.
The bill would not prevent businesses from banning guns on their property, and federal background checks for certain gun purchases would remain in place. Texas does not have any state requirements for background checks on private gun sales.
Texas has allowed people to carry handguns since 1995 and has reduced the costs and training requirements to obtain a license over the past decade.
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Texas’ move to further relax gun laws has infuriated El Paso lawmakers, including Democratic State Representative Joe Moody, who gave a touching speech on House floor on Sunday evening who recounted being in rooms with the governor and family members looking for loved ones after the Walmart Shoot in 2019.
The 2021 legislative session is the first time state lawmakers have met since the attack that killed 23 people.
There were promises, Moody recalled, that the state would “take gun safety seriously” after the shooting. Authorities said the gunman targeted Mexicans in the border town.
“When the doors were closed I heard a lot of promises,” Moody said. “I haven’t heard them since.
Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber contributed.