Texas is a step closer to allowing residents to carry handguns openly in public without a permit or training, becoming the most populous state in the United States to do so.

Despite criticism from gun-control groups and law enforcement leaders, the state’s Republican-led legislature approved a bill late Monday night that drops one of the state’s last major gun restrictions, sending the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has said he intends to sign it.

“The strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history,” Abbott tweeted days before the bill was passed. “Let’s get it to my desk for signing.”

Abbott’s office did not respond to a question about when he intends to sign it into law or queries regarding the concerns raised by critics, who fear the measure could lead to an increase in gun violence. Gun-control groups have pointed to the state’s recent history of mass shootings, including those at an El Paso Walmart, a Houston-area high school and a movie theater in Odessa.

A majority of Texas voters, 59 percent, oppose permitless carry, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll conducted last month.

But supporters of the “constitutional carry” bill, including the National Rifle Association, hailed it as the greatest Texas “gun rights victory since the Alamo” and said it repeals restrictions that infringe on a constitutional right to bear arms.

“A right requiring you to pay a tax or obtain a government permission slip is not a right at all, that’s why the NRA is proud to have worked closely with state leaders and legislators to pass the most significant pro-Second Amendment measure in Texas history,” Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, said in a statement.

Conservatives applauded the vote, urging similar laws in other Republican-controlled states.

“Let’s get this done in Georgia!” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted Tuesday.

The bill is one of a number of measures sent to the governor this legislative session that has drawn vehement opposition from Democrats and thrust the state into national debates. Republicans have pushed forward laws that ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy and halt cities’ efforts to reduce or reallocate their police budgets.

Texas, which already has some of the loosest gun laws in the country, had more than 1.6 million handgun license holders at the end of 2020, according to the state’s public safety department.

The state allows rifles to be carried in public without a license. The bill would allow adults 21 and older without a felony criminal conviction to carry a handgun without a license or background check.

Nearly two dozen other states allow some form of unregulated carrying of handguns.

After informally surveying law enforcement agencies in five of those states, Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, said crime rates increased and police reported challenges after the passage of such a law in at least four states.

“It’s going to make the jobs of the officers on the street more difficult,” Lawrence told The Washington Post on Tuesday.

Before the bill’s passage, law enforcement groups expressed concern that there would be no way to weed out people in advance who should not be carrying guns if they do not possess licenses. To alleviate concerns, a bipartisan group of lawmakers conferred, adding stiffer penalties for felons caught illegally carrying guns.

Still, many law enforcement groups sided with the majority of Texans against the bill.

“We wouldn’t know who we’re stopping,” Douglas Griffith, the president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, told Houston’s KTRK-TV. “Who is going to have a weapon? Who is not going to have a weapon? Who is trained proficient in that weapon and who’s not? I think it’s very important when you’re talking about people having something that could take someone’s life that they have to be trained in that.”

During the debate over the bill on the House floor Monday, Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat who represents a district covering part of El Paso County, pleaded with fellow lawmakers to consider the gun violence that could stem from unrestricted access to guns. In an emotional seven-minute address, Moody recalled spending time with families waiting to hear whether their loved ones had survived the 2019 Walmart shooting.

“All they wanted was something better. All they wanted was accountability,” he said. “Yet, here we are.”

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