(CNN)A new pro-gun law in Texas that went into effect Wednesday allows most Texans who legally own a firearm to carry it openly in public without obtaining a permit or training, a measure that experts say will make it more challenging for law enforcement to protect the public from gun violence.
Texans can now openly carry guns in public without a permit or training. Police say the new law makes it harder to do their jobs
The controversial "constitutional carry" legislation is the latest in a series of pro-gun bills that state lawmakers passed this year as gun violence incidents rise in Texas and across the country.
The number of shootings in Texas, not including suicides, increased 14% this year with roughly 3,200 shootings compared to the same period in 2020, which recorded roughly 2,800 shootings, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive (GVA). Gun violence incidents this year represent a 50% increase over the same period in 2019, which saw 2,100 shootings, the data shows.
"In Texas, repealing the permit altogether is a radical change," said Andrew Karwoski, a policy expert at Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country. "Just allowing almost anyone to carry a handgun in public, no questions asked, no background check or safety training, is really dangerous."
Conservative activists had lobbied for permitless carry proposals for years, but they were stalled in the past three legislative sessions. Declaring that the law "instilled freedom in the Lone Star State," Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill -- which the state House of Representatives approved in an 82-62 vote -- into law in June despite opposition from Democrats, some policing leaders and gun control advocates.
Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia said people open carrying firearms have made it harder for officers to differentiate a "good guy with a gun from a bad guy with a gun."
"Owning a firearm and being able to deploy a firearm in a safe manner requires not only familiarity with the weapon system but also a level of proficiency," said Frank Straub, the director of the Center for Mass Violence Response Studies at the National Police Foundation.
Known as House Bill 1927, the law applies to Texans age 21 and older and excludes people who are prohibited from legally owning a firearm, such as those convicted of a felony, assault, domestic violence or terrorist threats. Before the law went into effect Wednesday, residents could carry handguns only with a license and were required to complete training, as well as pass a written exam and proficiency test.
Republican supporters of the bill have argued that by removing the licensing requirement, they are removing an "artificial barrier" to residents' right to bear arms under the Constitution and ensuring more Texans have access to "the protection of themselves or their families" in public.
"This bill, to me, is a restoration of the belief in and trust of our citizens," said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Republican and the bill's sponsor. "If you possess a firearm, you should be able to carry a firearm."
Texas joins several other conservative states -- such as Iowa, Tennessee, Montana, Utah and Wyoming -- that have passed legislation this year allowing some form of permitless carry as President Joe Biden pushed forward executive actions to address gun violence in the wake of several high-profile mass shootings.
In more than 40 states, people can carry loaded, semi-automatic rifles in public without a license or training. Five states, including California and the District of Columbia, ban the open carry of loaded long guns, while only Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey require permits to openly carry long guns, according to Everytown. In 29 states, civilians can open carry loaded long guns around state capitols, according to Everytown.
"As we've seen gun extremism continue to rise in this country, we've also seen people who open carry start out at marches and rallies and then show up in elected officials' homes, in polling places, statehouses and then on January 6th at the US Capitol," said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, which has been fighting for gun safety measures since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six educators.
Earlier this year, Texas law enforcement officials held a news conference in Austin to oppose the so-called "constitutional carry" legislation. They included Garcia, the Dallas police chief, and Doug Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. "A minimum level of training is not asking too much for carrying a firearm and it is consistent with the Second Amendment," Garcia said at the news conference.
"It makes our job, the job of our men and women, more dangerous," he added. "Gun owners have a duty to ensure that their firearms are handled safely and a duty to know applicable laws."
If an individual is seen carrying a firearm at a protest or a store, there is little that law enforcement can do unless the person is acting in an illegal manner, according to Karwoski, of Everytown.
"One of the reasons that open carry is so dangerous is because it's so difficult to enforce," Karwoski said. "It's hard for law enforcement when they see someone walking down the street with a military-style assault weapon to understand their intentions and respond accordingly."
While everyone has the right to purchase and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the Constitution, said Straub, those individuals "should go through a process that ensures their possession of a firearm is done in a safe manner."
But not everyone should have access to a gun, Straub said -- especially those struggling with suicidal ideology, certain mental health issues, and a history of domestic violence.
"We need to have safeguards in place that protect the person carrying the firearm as well as the general public," he said.