AUSTIN, Tex. (Reuters) - Security is newly tightened at the Texas Capitol, but plenty of gun-toting visitors can breeze right through.
Concealed handgun license holders walk through a special lane marked “CHL Access” around, and not through, the metal detectors put in place last year after a man fired shots outside the statehouse.
Schoolchildren and tourists, meanwhile, have to walk through metal detectors and put their bags and keys through scanners. One of the busiest times is now, when the legislature, which meets biennially, is convened.
Richard Robertson, a concealed handgun license holder who visited the Capitol on Saturday, is glad guns are allowed in the statehouse.
“It’s not the Wild West mentality where I‘m hoping to get into a fight, but if some lunatic tries something, I’d feel better having the means to put an end to it,” said Robertson, general manager of a construction company in Austin.
“Around here, it’s not that big of a deal (to have a gun at the Capitol). Someone from out of state may think we’re a bunch of yahoos.”
Texas officials said that state troopers stationed at the checkpoints look at concealed handgun licenses to make sure they are valid.
“It’s not like they just whoosh on through,” said Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Permit holders must undergo criminal background checks and take classes to get the licenses.
But they do move through quickly enough that lobbyists, and even some journalists, have signed up in droves for the $140 licenses, even if they have no intention of carrying a weapon into the statehouse.
The fear of getting stuck in line behind hundreds of schoolchildren led Carrie Kroll, director of advocacy and health policy for the Texas Pediatric Society, to get her concealed handgun license ahead of the legislative session.
“Do I think it’s silly?” Kroll asked. “Yes.”
She proposed that frequent visitors to the Capitol should have quicker access rather than using the CHL lanes.
State Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican and one of the state’s more than 460,000 concealed handgun license holders, said he carries his gun at the Capitol nearly all the time.
It was Patrick’s office that gunman Fausto Cardenas visited before firing several shots on the Capitol steps last year. No one was injured, and Patrick was not there at the time.
“I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I don’t have the chance to defend myself, my family or my friends,” said Patrick, who is pushing legislation to allow concealed handguns on college campuses. “We live in a world where you can encounter danger at home or work or on the street.”
Carrying a license and a gun “tends to make you a little more aware, more alert,” he said.
Last year, Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who opposed the metal detectors at the Capitol entrances, had his .380 pistol with him while jogging in the Austin area and has said when he came across a coyote, he shot it dead.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune