Committee approves legislation to reduce costs of handgun license

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A proposal to reduce the cost associated with acquiring or renewing a handgun license is headed to the Senate floor after being unanimously approved Monday by the Senate Committee on State Affairs. 

Senate Bill 16, authored by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, would reduce the initial cost for obtaining a handgun license to $40. Currently, it costs $140 to obtain a license.

Nichols said the bill would allow people to exercise their constitutional right to carry a firearm. He said the fee is currently an undue burden on people applying for a handgun license. 

“This would take Texas from one of the highest fees in the nation to one of the lowest fees in the nation,” Nichols said.

Nichols said only two states currently have a higher fee: Illinois and Arkansas. 

The bill would also reduce the cost of renewing a handgun license from $70 to $40. 

Originally, SB 16 eliminated all costs associated with handguns licenses entirely. However, a committee substitute — or revised version of the bill — sets the cost for both first-time and renewed licenses at $40. 

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said the bill would not cost the state anything. 

“The real intent of the bill is to make the ability to get a license affordable to most Texans,” Huffman said.

Echoing this sentiment, Alice Tripp, Texas State Rifle Association legislative director, said the $40 fee is appropriate because that is the amount it costs the state to produce a license. 

About a dozen people testified during the committee hearing, none of whom testified against the bill.   

Andrea Brauer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, said there were 3,200 gun deaths and 18,000 gun thefts in the state last year. Brauer said she would like to see a few more dollars in this fee to go toward educational programs promoting safe gun storage. 

Another suggested change to the bill would exempt law enforcement officials and commissioned security guards from paying the fees. 

“Law enforcement and commissioned security officers already must be licensed, pay a fee, pay for background (checks) and go through training that far exceeds that of an LTC holder,” said John-Michael Gillaspy of Texas Carry. “Having them do this all over again to obtain a license to carry, we’re essentially taxing law enforcement and security officers twice.”

Proponents of the bill said they were in favor of the legislation regardless of the fate of “constitutional carry,” a House bill that would not require a permit at all to carry a handgun.

“The reality is licensed versus unlicensed is a completely separate issue,” said Terry Holcomb, a State Republican Committee member. “Therefore, I do not believe this bill has any effect on the unlicensed carry bills that are making their way through the House. This will be a good bill for Texas regardless of what happens with unlicensed carry.”

The bill, which is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priorities for the session, is headed to the Senate floor where 16 of the 31 senators have signed on to the bill as primary authors or co-authors.