Home visit by gun rights advocate alarms Texas lawmakers
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas gun rights advocate drove to the homes of three Republican legislators he blamed for scuttling a proposal to carry firearms without a permit, prompting state troopers to monitor the House speaker’s family residence.
The episode rattled the firearm-friendly lawmakers in Texas, which already has some of the most permissive gun laws in the U.S. It also recalled a heated confrontation in 2015 between gun rights supporters and a Democratic lawmaker in the Texas Capitol, which led to the installation of “panic buttons” in the offices of some legislators.
Chris McNutt, leader of a group called Texas Gun Rights, drove to the neighborhoods of the lawmakers last week. On Friday, he was rebuked by the author of the bill after reports of his visits emerged.
Republican state Rep. Jonathan Stickland called the visits “some of the most concerning behavior I have witnessed in my time as a legislator.”
“Calling, writing, protesting, even showing up at the Capitol is something I strongly encourage,” Stickland said in a video posted on Facebook. “It is never OK to target their homes or personal businesses when you know they are not in town.”
McNutt did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press on Friday.
Among the neighborhoods McNutt visited was that of GOP House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who McNutt repeatedly accused of blocking the gun bill in a Facebook video. McNutt also posted videos of himself in the neighborhoods of two other Republican lawmakers.
Bonnen said in an emailed statement he could no longer watch as lawmakers and their families are “incessantly harassed by fanatical gun rights activists who think laws preventing criminals from carrying a gun should be repealed.”
“One fringe organization’s leader disturbingly traveled over 700 miles in 24 hours just to visit the homes of lawmakers — knowing full well that Members were hundreds of miles away in our Capitol while wives and children were alone,” Bonnen said. “These gutless intimidation tactics only embolden the Texas House to continue strengthening the rights of law abiding gun owners and keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”
The Houston Chronicle reported that Kim Bonnen, the speaker’s wife, said McNutt wore a shirt with a picture of an assault rifle when he came to their neighborhood in Angleton, about 60 miles south of Houston. McNutt was met by state troopers who had been waiting for him, the newspaper reported. Dennis Bonnen was in Austin, where the House was voting on a new state budget.
Kim Bonnen also said that McNutt’s visit was “freaking me out ... This cannot become how we advocate.”
Democratic state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, who chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, said Friday that he had previously planned to hold a hearing for the gun bill. Now he said he won’t.
“I think it’s incumbent upon me not to reward bad behavior or make them believe that somehow this harassment led to me giving them a hearing,” Nevarez said.
Nevarez, who is from town of Eagle Pass on the U.S.-Mexico border, said he believes the bill might not be a bad idea with a few tweaks. But he said the measure’s language as filed allows any felon to carry a weapon because law enforcement wouldn’t be able to stop them and ask for a permit.
Nevarez was also the lawmaker who got into the confrontation with gun rights advocates in 2015. A video at the time showed Nevarez asking the group to leave his office while being called “a tyrant to the Constitution” for not supporting a bill to overturn Texas’ ban against the open-carry of handguns.