Lege Lines: Guns vs. Business, Strange Bedfellows, and More

Lege walks the line between proliferating guns, protecting businesses

Bill Hammond
Bill Hammond

There's an unusual fight brewing on the right, and it all revolves around signs. Specifically, how big a sign must Texans display in their windows if they don't want guns in their businesses? It may sound like a minor issue, more typographical than legal, but it's become an unexpected constitutional clash, as to whether property rights or Second Amendment rights should hold sway.

The grim reality is that gun control advocates expect that the open carry rules in Senate Bill 17 will pass, and that Speaker Joe Straus will not get in its way (in part, as a sop to gun groups for when the House kills the wildly unpopular campus carry). So the important struggle is to limit its excesses, with local opt-out and protections for private property. House Bill 2405 is one such bill: Currently, a business that doesn't want people with concealed firearms on its property must put a huge sign in its window. If open carry passes, they'll need two, and they will have to comply precisely with the law. At an April 7 hearing, bill author state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, recalled a recent trip to the cinema with a friend. He said, "One of the things my friend likes to do is test businesses. ... I don't know why he likes doing that." The cinema had a huge sign saying that concealed firearms were not allowed. However, it didn't meet the exact wording and font size required by the law, so his friend could bring his gun in, even though the owners clearly didn't want it. In testimony, Texas Gun Sense noted that the signs were deliberately designed to make life difficult for businesses, and that there are websites such as Texas3006.com, which lists every business where the sign is out of compliance. HB 2405 just makes the sign simpler and smaller, so businesses can print their own.

Poncho Nevárez
Poncho Nevárez

Unsurprisingly, the Texas State Rifle Association opposes the measure, saying that handgun owners should be able to see the sign from the parking lot. Equally unsurprisingly, gun control group Moms Demand Action backs the bill: Anna Kehde, volunteer leader with the Texas chapter, explained that the current law requires a sign "as big as a pony," and noted that other states with concealed carry, including Kansas, Illinois, and South Carolina, allow similar, less burdensome signs. Recently, MDA picked up a surprising ally in the Texas Association of Business.

In March, the TAB (which generally restricts its opinion to fewer taxes and more high-stakes school testing) weighed in. The group sent a letter to the members of the Homeland Security and Public Safety Com­mittee, stating its position on the open carry legislation in HB 910, specifically that it "continues to allow a business to choose if handguns are allowed at their place of business with no additional burdens put on the employer." This is not the first time this session the normally hard-line TAB has veered away from the Republican party line. CEO Bill Hammond has publicly opposed ending the DREAM Act, and criticized the raft of anti-LGBT legislation, arguing it could alienate businesses and invoke boycotts. 

Short Lines

Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined a demonstration on the Capitol steps against pending anti-LGBT legislation on April 4. He warned that bills echoing Indiana's so-called religious freedom act could damage Austin's reputation as a liberal and inclusive city, which is one of the reasons that the businesses and creatives so vital to Texas' economy are prepared to move here... Democrats and immigrant rights activists are furious at how Republicans are handling their latest effort to take away in-state tuition from noncitizens at Texas universities (i.e., repealing the DREAM Act). SB 1819 by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, was sent to the Veteran Affairs & Military Installations Committee, not High­er Education. In her testimony at the April 6 meeting of the committee's Sub­com­mit­tee on Border Security, Center for Public Policy Priorities Executive Director Ann Beeson fumed about false rhetoric from bill advocates, saying "resident noncitizen students do not 'take away slots from Texas citizen students,'" and noting they still have to go through the same application process. The Republican-dominated subcommittee ignored her testimony, and sent the bill to the full committee... The fight over HB 40, San Angelo Republican Drew Darby's bill to strip cities' ability to regulate drilling and fracking within their borders, has become a cold war. The Texas Municipal League had openly opposed the bill, which undercuts the powers of cities like Denton to regulate what happens in their cities. However, the TML and bill advocates the Texas Oil & Gas Association have signed an agreement to not push for any more amendments, either strengthening or weakening the measure... "It's always fun when you're getting to cut taxes," Ways and Means Committee Chair Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, gleefully declared to right-wing news site Texas Insider as he announced the most aggressive tax cuts yet: a 25% cut in the margins franchise tax (up from the 15% proposed by the Senate), and a cut in the state sales tax. Bonnen forecasts that a resultant increase in economic activity will not leave the state in a fiscal hole, but with the state facing a startling drop in oil revenues as prices crash, his optimism seems premature.

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Texas Legislature 2015, open carry, Poncho Nevárez, Texas Gun Sense, Texas State Rifle Association, Dream Act

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