Open Carry Gun
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday night in favor of allowing people legally banned from owning guns to be able to petition the government to restore that right. Above, a Michigan gun rights supporter openly carried two pistols strapped to his leg during a rally, on April 27, 2014, in support of open carry policies. Reuters/Rebecca Cook

Texas lawmakers on Friday, May 29, approved a bill allowing licensed residents to openly carry handguns in a belt or shoulder holster. The law had been the subject of fresh controversy in recent weeks, following the deadly shootout in Waco, Texas, and legal wrangling over provisions that stirred police opposition.

House Bill 910 overturns a ban on open carry that had been in place since 1871. An earlier version of the bill contained a provision that would have prohibited police from checking licenses of people openly carrying guns, if there was no other reason to stop them. Lawmakers were divided on that measure, and law enforcement officers across the state vociferously opposed the measure, saying it would endanger police. Legislators eventually dropped the measure from the bill, allowing it to pass through both houses.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Friday that he would sign the bill. It is expected to go into effect in January.

The bill’s passage comes two weeks after around 200 members of dueling biker gangs in Waco, Texas, engaged in a deadly shootout, resulting in nine deaths and 18 injuries. That incident reignited controversy over the open carry law, including that of police officers who said it would be harder for them to respond to similar firefights if open carry laws were in effect.

“Officers responded very quickly, but open carry would or could have potentially caused more confusion for officers responding to this kind of situation,” said Austin Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay at a state senate hearing two days after the shooting, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Open-carry supporters dismissed those fears. One Texas state senator, Joan Huffman, said at a hearing that the bill “does not have anything to do with what went on [in Waco].” Gov. Abbott also told the Associated Press, “Well, the shootout occurred when we don’t have open carry. So obviously the current laws didn’t stop anything like that.”

State lawmakers are also discussing a separate bill that would allow licensed gun owners to bring their guns onto university campuses, including classrooms, dormitories and cafeterias. That bill is scheduled for debate in a conference committee, after which it will head to the state House of Representatives and Senate for approval.