by MORGAN SMITH
AUSTIN — The day after a deadly confrontation between rival biker gangs in Waco, top Texas lawmakers defended a proposal to loosen the state’s handgun laws.
“This bill does not have anything to do with what went on yesterday,” said State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican who leads the Senate State Affairs Committee, during a previously scheduled hearing on gun legislation.
Some critics told the panel Monday that a proposal to allow concealed handgun license holders to openly carry the firearms would have made the Waco shooting worse. But the panel approved the bill and sent it to the full Senate, where it is likely to have enough votes to pass.
Police arrested 170 people after nine people died and at least 18 were injured Sunday in the parking lot of a Twin Peaks restaurant. A police officer at the scene called the event one of the worst gun fights he had ever experienced within city limits.
The legislation has already passed the House, where House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee chairman Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, said the events in Waco “shouldn’t have anything to do” with its prospects of becoming law.
Huffman’s comments came after several witnesses, including Austin Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay, brought up the shootout during their testimony on the bill.
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.
Another witness, Ed Scruggs of Austin, related the story of friends who had been at the restaurant during the shooting and were forced to crawl to safety in the meat locker, where they hid to avoid flying bullets.
“Texas has a gun problem whether we want to accept that or not,” he said.
Later, gun rights activist CJ Grisham said that attempts to link the violence in Waco to open carry “really kind of falls on deaf ears” for those who properly understood the proposal.
Though state law allows the open carrying of long guns like rifles and shotguns, handguns may only be carried if they are concealed.
When asked whether an open carry law would have made the situation in Waco worse, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday: “Well, the shootout occurred when we don’t have open carry. So obviously the current laws didn’t stop anything like that.”
Abbott, a Republican, has said he would sign an open carry bill if it reached his desk.
MORGAN SMITH reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury. Texas Tribune reporters JULIÁN AGUILAR and JAY ROOT contributed to this story.
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