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New York Times: An Entry Reserved for Those With Guns

May 9, 2013

Published: March 8, 2013

AUSTIN, Tex. — At the State Capitol here, a legal concealed gun is the equivalent of an E-ZPass.

To enter the sand-colored building, most people — schoolchildren on field trips, out-of-state tourists — must wait in line to pass through a security area outfitted with metal detectors and scanners. But those with state licenses to carry concealed firearms can enter in a matter of seconds. They simply hand their permit to a state trooper, who verifies its authenticity. No metal detector needed.

Just as Texas has long embraced its guns, so has the Capitol. Legislators have walked the terrazzo hallways, attended committee hearings, met with constituents in their offices and voted on the floors of their respective chambers while armed with licensed high-powered pistols tucked beneath their suits or slipped into their boots or purses.

Despite the widespread acceptance of concealed weapons, many lawmakers do not speak so freely about their weaponry. Discretion is a key element of the Capitol’s gun culture: One reason those with licenses were given a separate security lane was to avoid having them take out their guns before passing through the metal detectors.

But of the 181 members of the State House and Senate, dozens have concealed-carry permits and routinely have their weapons with them in the building, current and former lawmakers said. Jerry Patterson, the state land commissioner and a former senator who wrote the concealed handgun law, put the number at around 35 legislators. Others said Mr. Patterson’s estimate was too high, and others, including Alice Tripp, legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, said it was too low.

“I’d say half the House and half the Senate,” she said. “There’s a couple who, I used to say, their desks would qualify as a gun show.”

At recent hearings of the House Committee on County Affairs, Representative Jonathan Stickland sat listening to testimony while wearing a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol.

“This is probably one of the most well-armed buildings in the state,” said Mr. Stickland, a freshman Republican from Bedford, near Fort Worth. “When you grow up around guns and you feel comfortable with what they can do, and you know how to use them and you respect them, there’s really nothing to fear.”

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