States Rights

Texas legislature looks to expand gun rights, roll back ban on open carry

Oct. 19, 2013: In this file photo, flags fly at the "Come And Take It San Antonio" rally. Long depicted as the rootin'-tootin' capital of American gun culture, Texas is one of the few states with an outright ban on the open carry of handguns. That could change next year, with an expected push for expanding gun rights from the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Oct. 19, 2013: In this file photo, flags fly at the "Come And Take It San Antonio" rally. Long depicted as the rootin'-tootin' capital of American gun culture, Texas is one of the few states with an outright ban on the open carry of handguns. That could change next year, with an expected push for expanding gun rights from the Republican-dominated Legislature.  (AP/San Antonio Express-News)

Known as the capital of the American gun culture, lawmakers in Texas are preparing to push a handful of bills through the state legislature that expands the rights of gun owners.

Lawmakers say some of the bills being considered include lifting a ban on open carry of handguns. If Texas, which currently allows concealed handguns, rolls back its century-old ban, it would be the largest state in the country to do so.

Of the states that ban open carry, Texas easily has the most gun-friendly reputation. The state holds the most federal firearms license holders and has few restrictions on gun ownership. Republican Gov. Rick Perry and state lawmakers have lobbied gun makers to move to the state.

Texas 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.

But Texas still insists handguns be kept out of sight.

Texas first banned the carrying of handguns "when the carpet-bagger government was very anxious about former Confederates and recently freed slaves carrying firearms," state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said.

Overturning a century of law proved difficult, and a concealed weapons law failed several times until it finally passed in 1995 when Patterson, then a state senator, led the charge. Texas now has about 811,000 concealed handgun license holders, nearly equal the population of San Francisco.

Even among gun supporters in Texas, the idea of open carry was considered too radical when the concealed carry law passed. Since then, the Legislature has expanded gun rights incrementally. It made the licensing of concealed handguns easier and, during the last three sessions, held heated debates over concealed handguns on college campuses. Open carry backers believe these debates helped rally support to their cause and that an open carry law will pass.

Open carry opponents, such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America, say carrying guns on the street is less about gun rights than intimidation.

"There is no way to know ... if that person is a threat to moms and our children," said Claire Elizabeth, who heads the group's Texas chapter.

Despite the early momentum, there are no guarantees open carry will pass. Bills to allow concealed handguns on college campus appeared to have widespread support in 2009, 2011 and 2013, but were derailed by objections from universities and law enforcement.

Most of the open carry bills already filed for the upcoming session would still require a license. One, by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would eliminate the licensing requirement for concealed or open carry.

"The idea is we're going to return our Second Amendment rights," Stickland said. "I can't imagine what the citizens would do if they had to take a class or pay a fee to use their First Amendment rights."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.