Despite Austin shooting and concerns from law enforcement, permitless carry law could survive Texas Legislature session
After years of lobbying by gun rights activists, Texas House members overwhelmingly approved a bill last week that would allow handguns to be carried without a permit. It then moved to the more conservative Senate, but its chances of passage remained murky due to concerns from law enforcement and some Republican lawmakers.
As Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick attempted to sway his colleagues to support the bill, a former Travis County sheriff's deputy shot and killed three people—his ex-wife Amanda, her 17-year-old daughter Alyssa Broderick and Alyssa's 18-year-old boyfriend Willie Simmons III—in North Austin, prompting an hours-long shelter-in-place order and some local elected officials to decry the permitless carry proposal.
A March poll by the University of Texas-Tyler and the Dallas Morning News found that 64% of Texas voters oppose changing the state's permitting requirement, including a majority of both Republican and gun-owning respondents.
The Texas Police Chiefs Association and some local unions have also spoken out against permitless carry, which would eliminate training requirements, including basic safety instruction. "I think Texas gun laws are lax enough now that law enforcement probably has to approach every situation like people are armed," said Switzer, Texas Gun Sense executive director.
Despite these concerns, permitless carry could still become state law. Patrick created a new Senate Committee on Constitutional Issues, which is chaired by State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown. He announced in a tweet on Friday that the committee will hear the permitless carry bill approved by the house next week.
I am proud to chair the newly created Senate Committee on Constitutional Issues and look forward to hearing this bill next week so we can pass #ConstitutionalCarry this session! #txlegepic.twitter.com/Vo52auMrOP
— Charles Schwertner (@DrSchwertner) April 23, 2021
Melanie Greene, lead volunteer for the Moms Demand Action Austin group, said state lawmakers are likely motivated to pursue such legislation because of a small, vocal minority of gun rights activists and the threat of drawing even more conservative opponents in primary elections. Although they may be impervious to the recent triple homicide, others are not. "These mass shootings tend to galvanize interest in this topic," she said. "We see many more people signing up for our meetings or reaching out to us after a mass shooting."
Local officials are also taking action.
Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday directing the city manager to accelerate local efforts to combat gun violence. Members also called on state and federal officials to address gun violence through "common-sense legislation," such as universal background checks, red flag laws and licensing requirements.
"Common-sense gun violence protection is both possible and necessary," District 10 Council Member Alison Alter, who sponsored the ordinance and in whose district the shooting occurred, said in a statement Thursday. "We all know that prayers are not enough."
Council Member Leslie Pool added: "Words cannot describe the frustration we feel to have lost three of our community members to gun violence—while the Texas Legislature doubles down on policies that will cause more loss of life with permitless gun carry bills."
In addition to addressing gun restrictions, local officials are focused on reducing violent gun crime, which is on the rise in Austin and across the country. The Austin Police Department launched a gun crime prevention program in partnership with the Travis County District Attorney's Office last Friday, which aims to increase prosecution of violent offenses by tracking gun crime trends more closely and referring cases to federal law enforcement where appropriate.
After last week's triple homicide, there have been 26 homicides in Austin so far this year, compared to 16 this time last year and 10 in late April of 2019. "I won't say it's unprecedented, but it's very, very concerning," Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said during a press conference last Friday. "We haven't seen these types of homicide waves since the '90s."
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.