After the Waco Shootout, Texas Lawmakers Debate Gun Laws

Sunday’s deadly melée in Texas hasn’t seemed to hurt the prospects for a bill loosening handgun restrictions in the state.

Mike Stone / Reuters

Authorities are still working to develop a clear picture of the bullet-riddled scene where nine members of biker gangs died in a shootout in Waco, Texas. Reports describe a chaotic fight that started in the bathroom of the bustling Twin Peaks restaurant, then escalated into a parking-lot brawl involving knives, brass knuckles, and guns. By Monday, 170 bikers had been arrested on murder-related charges and held with million-dollar bails. Autopsy reports released Tuesday indicated that all nine of the men killed were victims of gunshot wounds. As it happens, the gun fight coincides with the likely passage of a legislative initiative to loosen gun laws in Texas.

On Monday, deliberations over a bill that would allow for the open carrying of handguns in Texas went on as scheduled in the state’s Senate. Lawmakers offered support for the measure, which has already passed Texas House. “This bill does not have anything to do with what went on yesterday," a state senator remarked. This sentiment was echoed by others, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who told the AP on Monday: "The shootout occurred when we don't have open carry, so obviously the current laws didn't stop anything like that.”

Several witnesses who spoke to the bill on Monday did draw a connection between the open carry bill and Sunday’s bloodbath, the Texas Tribune reported. Austin Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay told senators that the ‘chaotic situation’ in Waco could have been made much worse by the confusion an open carry law would bring to responding police officers.”

The law would bring handgun policy in Texas into line with the majority of states. Forty-four other states currently allow some form of open carry. A Dallas Morning News analysis from earlier this month illustrated a decades-long evolution among Texas lawmakers on the issue: In the 1990s, opponents of looser gun rights laws attached open-carry amendments to gun legislation “in an effort to sink the bills,” the Morning News pointed out. “Some Republicans, fearful of just that result, said open carry was unnecessary.”

Now, supporters of the pending open carry legislation point to the 90s as an indication that predictions of increased violence from loosened gun laws are overblown. In 1995, then-Governor George W. Bush signed a concealed carry bill into law. Firearm homicides in Texas declined 30 to 40 percent in the ensuing decades.

Among Texas law enforcement, opposition to an open carry law is not new. Prior to Sunday’s shooting, Texas Democrats frequently invoked police opposition to allowing concealed weapons, not only because of the confusion factor, but also for fear that the guns would “fall into the wrong hands.”

Another bill, which would require public colleges in Texas to permit concealed weapons on campus, is also close to passing, although it’s currently stalled in the legislature. Many school officials are not fond of the idea.