Texas lawmakers on Friday approved carrying handguns openly on the streets of the nation's second most-populous state, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who immediately promised to sign it and reverse a ban dating to the post-Civil War era. Gun owners would still have to get a license to carry a handgun in a visible holster. The state known for its wild west, cowboy history and some the nation's most relaxed gun laws, has allowed concealed handguns for 20 years. Concealed handgun license holders are even allowed to skip the metal detectors at the state Capitol, as state troopers providing security assume they're armed.
But Texas was one of only six states with an outright ban on so-called open carry, and advocates have fought to be allowed to keep their guns in plain sight. Cast as an important expansion of the Second Amendment, it became a major issue for the state's strong Republican majority. "We think of Texas being gun happy, but we didn't afford our citizens the same rights most other states do," says a GOP state rep who co-authored the bill. The House voted along party lines, 102-43, drawing gleeful whistles from some lawmakers. Soon after, the Senate passed it 20-11, also along party lines. But Democrats like Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston say they fear violence on the streets: "I hope we don't have a host of Texans running around with a Rambo mentality," Ellis says. (Read more Texas stories.)