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New Texas Law Lowers fees for Handgun Licenses

A license to carry a handgun in Texas used to be unaffordable for many Texans, including Cole Parker of Deer Park.

That changed Sept. 1, he said, when a new state law went into effect, significantly reducing the cost to get a license to carry a handgun. The law, Senate Bill 16, lowers the first-time fee for a five-year license to carry from $140 to $40 and the renewal fee from $70 to $40.

“The $140 fee was the only thing that stopped me from getting a license to carry a handgun,” Parker, 42, said. “The reason I don’t have my license after all these years is because the cost was so high.”

The new fee is expected to cost the state roughly $12.6 million in 2018. The measure allows peace officers to get a license for free.

“What a lot of people fail to realize is that its not just a $140 fee,” said C.J. Grisham, the founder and president of Open Carry Texas. “You also have to pay for the training class, ammunition and the cost to get fingerprinted.”

The new law makes Texas one of the cheapest places in the nation to get a license, state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said during the legislative session. Before the law passed, only Arkansas and Illinois had more expensive fees, he said.

Still, some Texans think the state shouldn’t ask gun owners to pay anything for a license.

“They shouldn’t charge a dime,” said Ken Phillips, a Tyler resident who does not have a handgun license. “It’s a God-given right.”

Gov. Greg Abbott agrees; a spokeswoman from his office said in January that the governor believes Texas shouldn’t impose any fees on licenses to carry handguns. The fee will go to the Department of Public Safety to cover the costs to administer the license program as well as $27 needed for county, state and federal background checks.

“Would I like to see it free? I’d love that, but I do understand there are state resources that cost money,” Parker said. “Somebody has to be paid.”

In April 2016, there were more than 1 million active handgun license holders in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“I believe the number of licenses will go through the roof because people like myself will look at the $40 fee and say, ‘yes, I can pay that,’” Parker said.

Now on the Books MORE IN THIS SERIES 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Hundreds of new state laws have gone into effect, including a statewide texting-while-driving ban. But two other high-profile measures – one dealing with abortion, the other immigration – are currently blocked by federal injunctions. [Full story]
  • Texans who have lost or damaged their license to carry a handgun as a result of Hurricane Harvey can receive a free replacement, Gov. Greg Abbott announced. [Full story]
  • After signing a bill and testing out a few guns at a shooting range, Gov. Greg Abbott held up his bullet-riddled target sheet and joked, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.” [Full story]

Author:  ALEX SAMUELS – The Texas Tribune

As Open Carry takes effect, Officials predict lawsuits

As the New Year arrived, so did a new option for gun-toting Texans.

The state’s roughly 826,000 handgun license holders, who previously had to keep their firearms concealed, can now carry them openly in a hip or shoulder holster.

Across Texas, law enforcement officials, city leaders and business owners are bracing for lawsuits.

That’s because state officials have so far largely left interpretation of the new law, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in June, up to local authorities. Prosecutors and police chiefs across the state’s 254 counties will now each determine their own answer to what was one of the most hotly debated questions of the 2015 legislative session: whether police officers can ask those visibly carrying guns to present their permits.

“There is a difference of opinion about whether or not just the mere fact that someone is walking down Main Street carrying a pistol in a holster is sufficient probable cause for a police officer to insist on seeing their handgun permit,” said Kevin Laurence, the executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association. “We are going to wind up having to get court cases out of this defining exactly what authority police officers have.”

Heralding the new open carry law as a much-needed update to the state’s gun regulations, Second Amendment rights activists say it lifts a burden unfairly placed on law-abiding citizens.

“I believe the state is prepared for a smooth, simple transition from concealed to open carry, though I expect most people will continue to carry concealed,” state Sen. Craig Estes, the Wichita Falls Republican who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement. “I truly believe the new law will benefit all law-abiding Texans.”

But the legislation’s critics have warned it could have negative consequences for tourism, retail and public safety in the state.

And when it comes to enforcement, confusion reigns.

Laurence said his organization, which represents more than 22,000 Texas law enforcement officers at the state, county and local level, has advised police officers to seek guidance from their departments on how they should approach open carry — and whether they need some evidence or suspicion of criminal activity to ask to see someone’s gun permit.

“The biggest emotion going on out there is confusion,” he said.

While the law protects existing “gun-free zones” — school campuses, courthouses and certain public property, for example — there’s still some uncertainty about where such zones begin and end.

In September, state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who opposes open carry, asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton whether the law merely gave schools the authority to prohibit guns in buildings and classrooms, or whether that authority extended to all district property, including parking lots, sidewalks and driveways.

Attorneys for Hays and Tom Green counties both asked Paxton to clarify their authority to limit handguns in multipurpose government buildings that also house courts. Their question boils down to whether officials may only ban guns in rooms where court proceedings take place — or if they can bar them from an entire building if the building houses a courtroom, said Hays County Criminal Attorney Wes Mau.

Paxton offered some clarification on the new law in three advisory opinions issued on Dec. 21. He ruled that school districts could prohibit weapons on all district property, including sidewalks and driveways, but that local officials could only ban guns from courtrooms, not entire courthouse facilities.

Complicating matters for government entities is a second law legislators passed in 2015, one that imposes a fine on local officials who improperly ban handguns in public places.

But it’s not just government entities grappling with open carry. Businesses in Texas are choosing between allowing open carry of handguns — which can make patrons uneasy — or facing an angry backlash from gun rights activists if they don’t.

Shortly after the law passed, Whataburger announced it would not allow open carry in its restaurants. Targeted outrage and calls for a boycott of the San Antonio-based fast food chain led CEO Preston Atkinson to make a public statement on the policy.

He said that while the company supports the Second Amendment, it made the “business decision” not to allow open carry in its restaurants “a long time ago.”

“We’re the gathering spot for Little League teams, church groups and high school kids after football games,” Atkinson wrote. “We’ve had many customers and employees tell us they’re uncomfortable being around someone with a visible firearm who is not a member of law enforcement, and as a business, we have to listen and value that feedback.”

Under the open carry law, if a business wants to prohibit all handguns on its property, it must post two signs in English and Spanish, one banning concealed handguns and another banning open carry.

The new requirements — and the legal threat companies face for not complying — are especially burdensome for small businesses that lack corporate resources like an in-house lawyer, said state Rep. Diego Bernal, a Democrat.

Since October, Bernal has been distributing signs that meet state requirements to small businesses in his San Antonio district that wish to ban firearms.

“The state has zero plan to let people know what to expect — folks are kind of in the dark,” said Bernal. “There are going to be a patchwork of interpretations and probably a patchwork of lawsuits. It was so poorly done.”

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, pol itics, government and statewide issues.

UT/TT Poll: Texans Say Mental Health Top Cause of U.S. Mass Shootings

Mental health issues, gun laws, unstable families and media coverage get most of the blame for mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Voters also attributed either “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of the blame for shootings in the U.S. to the spread of extremist views on the internet and to drug use.

“When we look at the explanations for the shootings, what we see is that there is bipartisan agreement on the failure of the mental health system,” said Jim Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “It was the No. 1 response among most major subgroups. If I was a political leader looking for an area where we could get agreement on gun violence, this is where I would look.” 

“It prompts immediate reactions that we ought to regulate guns.  But when you offer a plethora of options, I think people respond to the notion that there are crazy people out here and you ought to do something about these crazy people.”

Shaw noted the 41 percent who want stricter gun laws in a state that is generally seen as pro-gun rights.  That said, he said 54 percent either want gun control laws left alone or loosened.

Asked how they view the National Rifle Association, 48 percent say they have a favorable opinion, while 31 percent have an unfavorable opinion of that group. While 56 percent of Republicans have favorable impressions of the NRA, only 7 percent of Democrats do. And while 24 percent of Republicans have a negative opinion, 78 percent of Democrats do.

Immigration and the Border

Texas voters consistently rank immigration and the border as top issues facing the state — a signal to politicians that those positions matter — and the voters have some hardline views on the subject.

More than half agree with this statement: “Undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be deported immediately.”

While 39 percent disagree, 55 percent agree. Some are more emphatic: 30 percent strongly agree, and 21 percent strongly disagree.

Partisan and ethnic differences are deep. While 74 percent of Republicans agree, 64 percent of Democrats do not. Anglos (63 percent) and blacks (54 percent) agree, but Hispanics (58 percent) do not.

“I don’t know that the public has a set way of viewing immigration in the way they have a set way of viewing something like taxes,” Shaw said. “There are reasons to question whether you can frame this in a way that advantages you in 2016, and whether that’s in the long-term interest of the party.”

Almost half of Texas voters favor amending the U.S. Constitution to repeal automatic citizenship for children born here regardless of their parents’ legal status. But while 48 percent favor that notion, 39 percent oppose it.

“Republicans continue to have highly restrictive attitudes on immigration,” Henson said. “You see overall support for deportation, but that number is driven by lopsided results among Republicans and especially, Tea Party Republicans.

“To the extent that we are hearing the drums beating loudly and persistently on immigration in the Republican presidential primary, this is where the sheet music is coming from,” he said. “These numbers are extremely one-sided.”

 Sanctuary cities — a term for cities where local law enforcement agencies do not actively enforce some federal immigration laws — are not popular with Texas voters.
The survey found that 60 percent disapprove of sanctuary cities while 23 percent approve.
As with the other immigration questions, the answers were marked by partisan differences. For instance, only 2 percent of Tea Party Republicans said they approve of sanctuary cities, compared with 46 percent of Democrats.

“It suggests that the Trump/Cruz line sells pretty well in Texas,” Shaw said, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were tied for the lead for the presidential nomination among Republican primary voters in the poll, and each has taken a particularly hardline approach to immigration policy and favored deporting undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. “It’s important to get it right because so many people think it’s a big important issue.”

Abortion

An overwhelming majority — 87 percent — say women who want to avoid becoming pregnant should have access to birth control. Only 5 percent say they should not have access; the remainder express no opinion.

Almost half of Texas voters — 45 percent — consider themselves “pro-life,” while 35 percent consider themselves to be “pro-choice,” the survey found. The remainder — about one voter in five — chose neither label.

“I think the label matters, because candidates use the label,” Shaw said. “If you drill down and ask people more detailed questions, the label matters but doesn’t specifically map their policy positions.”

“The clear problem here is that because Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider and because they have a political arm that is very active and very identified with Democratic candidates, they have become a political target,” Henson said.

While 34 percent say they have a favorable impression of the organization, 46 percent say they have an unfavorable opinion.

Included in that last group are 38 percent who say they have a “very unfavorable” opinion of Planned Parenthood.

Republicans lead the way to those ratings, but the organization’s Democratic support has weakened in Texas, compared with results from the May 2012 UT/TT Poll. Then, 77 percent of Democrats had favorable opinions of Planned Parenthood, but that dropped to 62 percent in this poll. Most of those Democrats landed in the neutral/undecided bin, Henson said.

Planned Parenthood has spent much of 2015 responding to a series of videos released by abortion opponents — the Center for Medical Progress — that purport to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sales of tissue and organs from aborted fetuses. Though Planned Parenthood has criticized the videos for being heavily edited, last month the organization said it would no longer take reimbursement for fetal tissue research.

“The recent negative campaign against Planned Parenthood at the national level and in the state seems to have successfully reframed them in the mind of some people and weakened them with some Democrats,” he said.

Voters’ views of Planned Parenthood contrast sharply with their opinions of the NRA, another highly politicized organization in the news. Each is seen by voters largely through partisan filters.

“Any of these organizations that come across as being intrinsically involved in the partisan debate have kind of a stench about them,” Shaw said. That’s reflected in the partisan underpinnings of voter opinions.

Same-sex marriage

Texans are split exactly down the middle when it comes to same-sex marriage, with 43 percent saying gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry and 43 percent saying they should not have that right.

Those overall numbers mask partisan differences. Among Democrats, 65 percent approve of same-sex marriage. But 59 percent of Republicans disapprove.

There is also a gender gap: 48 percent of women approve, while only 38 percent of men do.

And there is also a big church gap: Same-sex marriage is not okay with 68 percent of Texans who attend church more than once a week and 56 percent of those who attend at least once a week. Among those who never attend church, 51 percent say same-sex couples have the right to marry.

“Texans are very divided,” Henson said. “If you look at it, they are still more open to gay marriage now, but Republicans are still resistant. Democrats have moved much more rapidly on the issue than Republicans. With some of the recent politicization of gay marriage and the national conversation, it’s not surprising to see Republicans not moving much on this.”

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

  • REFERENCE MATERIAL
UT/TT Poll, November 2015 – Methodology
PDF (66.2 KB) download
UT/TT Poll, November 2015 – Summary
PDF (209.1 KB) download

This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Thursday: The race for president. Friday: What Texas voters think about various state and federal officeholders and institutions. Tomorrow: The mood of the state.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of the Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:   – The Texas Tribune | All graphics by Emily Albracht

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, pol itics, government and statewide issues.

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