AUSTIN — With security concerns on the rise, metal detectors finally were installed and turned on at the Texas Capitol on Friday. But citizens, lobbyists and other visitors can escape the lines — if they carry a concealed handgun.
In the building where the conceal-and-carry law was written, visitors are not only allowed to pack heat. Under the new security procedures, there's now practically an incentive to be armed — or at least to hold the license for it.
Officials are creating one line for the masses, one line for lawmakers and their staffs and then a separate procedure for concealed-handgun-license holders. The general public has to get scanned at the entrances. State officials and gun-toting citizenry do not.
For frequent visitors of the capitol, including lobbyists, journalists and political activists, getting the permit just to get in faster is becoming an alternative to waiting behind tourists.
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"I'm thinking about it," said lobbyist Bill Miller, who spends most of his life walking in, out and around the capitol when the Legislature is in session. "I mean, I don't want to wait in line. If that's the way you do the deal, I'll be happy to get the permit. I won't be carrying any weapons."
The Texas Department of Public Safety said it was too early to determine whether there's a rush on permit applications but otherwise reported a smooth transition toward a security measure that Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican — who often carries a laser-sighted .380 — tried to stop but couldn't.
That lawmakers would take the trouble to install magnetometers and then allow weapons inside has struck the gun-control lobby as a dangerous idea in a state that doesn't mind testing the limits of its lock-and-load culture.
"If you're planning on perpetrating something in the state capitol, you should simply get a concealed handgun license and show your gun on the way in," said Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "It's just ludicrous."
Still, there never was much doubt that concealed-weapons holders, who have to undergo background checks and training, would be allowed into the Texas Capitol. They have been let in since the law was adopted in 1995. Today, Texas legislators routinely carry guns or stow them in their desks inside the House and Senate chambers.