AUSTIN — Young adults may soon be allowed to carry handguns in public, after the state on Tuesday gave up defending the age-based restrictions in court.
A federal judge earlier this year declared the state firearm law unconstitutional. While the Department of Public Safety initially planned to fight the ruling, the state agency reversed course and on Tuesday withdrew its appeal.
The state offered no explanation in its legal filing. Neither DPS nor the attorney general’s office, which handled the case, responded to a request for comment.
The development comes as the Legislature is set to meet in January for the first time since the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.
Texas has prohibited most 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying handguns in public unless they’re in the military or have a protective order.
The Firearms Policy Coalition, which challenged the state law last year on behalf of two Texans from Fannin and Parker counties, celebrated the outcome.
“It’s a great victory for law-abiding young adults who now have access to rights that they didn’t before in one of the largest states,” said Brandon Combs, president of the Nevada-based coalition. “We think it’s going to be a bellwether for other cases that we are litigating.”
Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, a group that has advocated for gun restrictions, raised concerns about expanding handgun carry to more people and places amidst an escalating rate of gun violence.
“It’s out of step with measures that would improve our public safety,” Golden said.
The case comes in the wake of a June U.S. Supreme Court decision that says Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman of Fort Worth cited the high court’s ruling when he determined the state’s age-based restrictions violate the Second Amendment.
In an August order, Pittman enjoined the department from “enforcing Texas’s statutory scheme against law-abiding 18-to-20-year-olds based solely on their age.” But he delayed the effective date until the appeal was resolved.
The state has not made clear how they will change practices. When it comes to handguns, both the state’s license to carry rules and the new permitless carry law apply to people age 21 and up.
The state’s initial plan to appeal Pittman’s ruling in September was met with fury by The National Association for Gun Rights, which called on Gov. Greg Abbott to “lead this state and get the Texas DPS in line.”
In early December, the state lawyer representing DPS asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for an extension to file an opening brief because of the “complexity of the case” and obligations on several other lawsuits.
Combs, with the Firearms Policy Coalition, said the state reached out Tuesday to give notice of the plan to withdraw the appeal, but did not say why.
On Wednesday, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice attempted to file an appearance in the case. The federal agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.