86th TXLege: The Bonnen Factor
Written by Felisha Bull Published
Friends, we began the 86th legislative session excited to advance constitutional carry.
In light of what we now know, it appears obvious that Speaker Bonnen, Chairman Nevarez, and others in House leadership were looking for a scapegoat on which to pin failure of constitutional carry from the start of the legislative session.
Let’s be clear: no actions of this past week killed HB 357. It was already being stalled to death due to inaction. Although the session isn’t over, with looming deadlines, the only paths to passage were (1) leadership (particularly Speaker Bonnen) prioritizing it and wanting it to pass or (2) the majority of the representatives vocally jumping on board and pushing for its passage. We’d already seen the failure of (2). Now we’ve seen the failure of (1).
THE BONNEN FACTOR
Speaker Bonnen’s strong statements this week in opposition to Constitutional Carry reflect a gross misunderstanding of what it even is — and blow out of proportion the activism that is actually occurring.
In a statement relayed by the Austin-American Statesman, he said:
— “I could no longer watch as legislators and their families are incessantly harassed by fanatical gun-rights activists who think laws preventing criminals from carrying a gun should be repealed.”
— “Their goal is to eradicate sensible gun policies by allowing anyone to carry a gun without a license and proper training — making it impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between law-abiding gun owners and criminals.”
— “The fear and terror used to push this agenda has made it clear this is bad public policy.”
Mr. Speaker, if you’re calling this bad policy, are you saying that it doesn’t work in the 16 states that have already passed it — some years ago? Name the 16 most dangerous states that come to you off the top of your head. I’d bet that none of them are Constitutional Carry states. What about the 31 most dangerous states off the top of your head? I bet it’s not going to line up with the list of 31 states that currently allow open carry of guns without a permit.
Bad policy is not determined by subjectively-determined “fear and terror” used to push it. Although there are many emotional issues with passionate activism on both sides, policy should be determined on its actual merits. But if you’re going to try to prove policy’s soundness based on its activism, you do Texans a great disservice by ignoring the thousands who showed up to district and state conventions, eloquently presented their cases, lobbied their legislators, spoke to their neighbors, and presented a reasonable and rational case for constitutional carry in so many ways.
Mr. Speaker, you do our entire state’s law enforcement a great disservice by claiming that they can’t distinguish between a law-abiding citizen and a criminal or that the passage of constitutional carry legislation would somehow create this problem. Do you think the 31 states that allow permitless carry have smarter and better law enforcement than Texas does? Because I have never heard them complaining that they don’t know who’s the criminal and who’s not.
Mr. Speaker, your statements reflect a misunderstanding of the purpose of a gun. In previous statements, you’ve mentioned being a gun owner. That’s great — but being a gun person is different from respecting liberty and understanding the purpose of an armed citizenry. Using guns for sporting purposes is not the same as understanding their use as defensive tools.
I am saddened that you do not realize that the purpose of upholding the right to keep and bear arms is ultimately to be a defense against a tyrannical government and that the license requirement and other restrictions defeat this purpose and are repugnant examples of holding us guilty until proven innocent — contrary to our standards of justice. I am disheartened that you believe “sound policy” means keeping current restrictions and infringements on Texans carrying their guns. A license and state-mandated training do not make one law-abiding and should never be required in order to prove one’s worthiness to carry a legally-owned handgun.
Mr. Speaker, your statement echoes several actual police departments and law enforcement organizations that have come out erroneously referring to Constitutional Carry as “criminal carry.” This is bizarre, ridiculous, and reflects a terrible understanding of law and criminals. First, to the extent that any law can make it harder for a criminal to carry, HB 357 actually makes it harder for a criminal to carry: it specifically says you may not carry under its provisions if you are engaged in criminal activity other than a class C traffic misdemeanor or if you are prohibited from possessing a gun. If you think that criminals don’t obey the law — you’re right; which is why this doesn’t actually make this easier or harder for criminals to carry. They can and do already break the laws in order to carry. It does reduce barriers for law-abiding citizens to carry guns and be able to defend themselves to mitigate harm and save lives when criminals attack.
In any movement — life, school choice, gun rights, desegregation — there are a few advocates who act in a way that the rest wouldn’t. That’s expected. It’s normal. The legislature and the media need to stop acting like gun rights is the only arena in which this happens.
Throughout history, we have seen examples of zealous activism that was first repudiated but eventually found success at the hands of those in power. Consider the actual breaking of laws by those in the civil rights movement, or Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses to the door of the church. Activists have used atypical behavior to bring about changes in policy. Today we praise those who stood out from the crowd and championed for basic human rights affirmed in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Our founding fathers pushed the limits a lot more than anyone is doing right now. Even before it came to actual war, they were writing pamphlets and drawing caricatures that would surpass some of the most edgy and shocking memes out there today. They were staging protest demonstrations that would raise the eyebrows of some of today’s most forward activists. And in doing so, they were standing up for what they believed in: the principles that would become the foundation of our country.
If a piece of legislation could be killed by one activist going to a legislator’s door, I think we would see a lot more of that being done, and a lot more bills dying because of it. Don’t fall for this rhetoric. It’s a lie.
I cannot condone going specifically to a legislator’s door when it was known that only his family was there. However, the media has blown reality far out of proportion in the way they have portrayed this activism. I fail to see evidence of actual threats.
If you’re in politics you’d better have thick skin. If you’re an elected official, you should NEVER complain publicly that some activist stepped over the line because your feelings are hurt or because you got called out on bad actions. Be convinced that you’re doing the right thing and own up to it. Don’t cry “unfair” and put the blame on someone else.
To allow one’s decisions on matters of policy affecting millions of people to be influenced by feelings is a sign of weakness. True leadership casts aside temptations that would allow emotional, ego-driven impulses to affect matters of law, particularly those at the heart of personal liberty.
Politics is dirty and revolting and gross and disgusting. Backroom deals are made all the time. Legislators are forced to water down their bills or pull their bills and mostly they do it because they’re afraid of retribution if they don’t comply. I find this repulsive and I would honestly just like to see ideas discussed on their merits. If HB 357 had gotten to the floor, perhaps it would have failed. But it should have had the opportunity to get there, be debated, and die honestly if it was going to die, instead of getting stalled and the blame pinned elsewhere.
Although we can correctly pin a lot of blame on Speaker Bonnen for the blockage of HB 357, let’s not forget the 130 or so representatives and 31 Senators who also failed to take action. The Senate could have filed a bill — they didn’t. The House members could have at least signed onto HB 357 (a very easy, simple, and effective way to show early support) — over 130 didn’t.
I’ve been told repeatedly that Republican legislators want cover and don’t want to have to take “hard” votes. First, that’s not acceptable; second, it shouldn’t be a “hard” vote to vote for your party’s legislative priority. Providing cover by opposing this legislation and keeping it from being brought to the floor is not an appropriate thing for the Speaker to do. We will not forget to hold accountable all of those who failed to show support.
Let’s also not forget to thank those who DID sign on, who did stand up because they know this is good policy. I sincerely appreciate them. I wish more of their colleagues had been as brave.
Mr. Speaker, you said on January 26, “I’ll bet my critics an AR-15 that their gun rights won’t be infringed” this session. Based on the caving I’m seeing this session I think we’re going to need some AR-15’s.
We may now see some legislators trying to say that they actually do support Constitutional Carry (now that they feel sure they won’t have to take a vote on HB 357). We may see some say, “Oh, it would have gotten a committee hearing.” I’ll need more evidence than words.
Friends, don’t stop engaging in good activism. Good activism means we’re standing up for what we believe in. We’re speaking the truth — like I’m doing here, and like many of you do every day. We’re not reacting out of anger, we’re acting out of love for the truth and passion for liberty. We’re not acting out of vengeance against individuals — even those who have gravely wronged us — we’re acting out of an indomitable spirit because we’re never going to give in because this fight is worth it. We love our enemies — which includes calling out bad actions but ultimately hoping and working toward bringing them into work with us in the fight for liberty.
So what can you do now?
1.) Be vocal about holding the correct people responsible for the death of HB 357. Don’t forget that this is a Republican-controlled legislature and if they had collectively wanted to pass constitutional carry they could have and would have. The responsibility goes not only to leadership which failed to prioritize the issue but also to every single one of the legislators who failed to take action. Don’t let them point the finger elsewhere.
2.) Continue to call leadership (see below) and express your disappointment in their failure to prioritize Constitutional Carry. Please maintain the utmost integrity. Be respectful but firm. I encourage you to not speculate as to someone’s motives if they haven’t stated them. Simply state the facts — and we have plenty of incriminating facts.
Speaker Bonnen (512-463-1000)
Lt. Governor Patrick (512-463-0001)
Gov. Abbott (512-463-2000)
3.) Call your state rep and your state senator’s office. If you live close to Austin (or can travel for a meeting) call their Capitol Office. If you can’t travel to Austin, call their District Office. If you don’t know the number, google “who represents me” or go to https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov
Tell the person who answers the phone that you are a constituent and you’d like a meeting with your legislator. If they absolutely won’t give you a meeting with the legislator, ask for a meeting with the chief of staff or the legislative director.
At the meeting, let them know that you support Constitutional Carry. Explain what it is. Tell them why it’s important to you. Be rational and professional, but do not accept excuses.
If your state rep is on this list, please simply call them and tell them thank you for their support of Constitutional Carry. These are the representatives who signed on to HB 357 (constitutional carry) before the end of March.