Temple, TX, April 22, 2019– Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) has been lying to his colleagues in the Legislature and to the citizens of the great State of Texas. His attacks on grassroots advocates and on the 2nd Amendment generally, have been well-documented since he was tapped as the leader of the lower chamber of the Texas Legislature.
On January 8, 2019, Speaker Bonnen was unanimously selected as the Speaker of the House. Immediately, we recognized the danger to 2nd Amendment legislation his election would bring and began questioning how it would affect the fate of Constitutional Carry. We were assured, however, by many Republicans that Speaker Bonnen would protect gun rights in Texas and that our fears were unfounded.
On January 23, 2019, Speaker Bonnen announced the committee chairs to head the more than 30 committees during this legislative session. Our fears were immediately legitimized as we began to process his selections to head key committees that would be responsible for passing (or killing) pro-gun legislation. The most important committee to hear bills related to firearms is generally the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, previously chaired by Chairman Phil King (R-Wise and Parker Counties). NRA “A-rated” Dennis Bonnen made the conscious decision to choose NRA “D-rated” Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) to chair this important committee thereby giving credence to our concerns.
During the debates in the 84th Legislative Session on HB 910 – the open carry law – Rep. Nevarez sought to undermine state reciprocity by barring Texans from obtaining and carrying on non-resident licenses from reciprocal states. He voted against every amendment that would have made open carry better for law abiding gun owners and voted for every amendment that would have further limited the right to and manner of open carry, including an amendment that would have allowed cities with a population over 750,000 to create ordinances prohibiting the lawful open carry of handguns. Finally, Rep. Nevarez was one of only 42 legislators to vote against HB 910 during the 84th Legislature. Despite this absolute and blatant lack of support for the 2nd Amendment, Speaker Bonnen still tapped Rep. Nevarez to chair the HSPS Committee where he would be proven to kill meaningful gun rights legislation.
Gun owners were legitimately concerned with these appointments. In addition to promoting Rep. Nevarez to chairman, Speaker Bonnen selected eleven other anti-gun Democrats to chair important committees. He tapped NRA “F-rated” legislators Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and Senfronia Thompson (D-Booth) to the Public Health Committee, two other committees that hear important gun rights related legislation. Naturally, these developments further confirmed our suspicions with the selection of Bonnen as the Speaker and we immediately began mobilizing our members and informing them about the dangers of his leadership.
On January 27, 2019, Speaker Bonnen shared a photo presumably at a gun range with his son on his Facebook page with a telling and insightful screed defending his “support” of the natural right to keep and bear arms. The very first line of his response says everything anyone needs to know about what he really thinks about supporters of constitutional carry and the 2nd Amendment. He bemoaned “gun rights fringe groups [that] have called my leadership into question.” He hailed his “A rating with the NRA” as proof that he has “been an advocate for Texan’s [sic] 2nd Amendment Rights.” Any suggestion to the contrary by gun rights activists was “asinine.” Oddly, he further claimed that he “placed a majority of members on committees of jurisdiction which reflect Texas’s long-standing pro-gun stance.” To add insult to injury, he belittled his critics by suggesting that “some fringe groups can’t count to 5 for a 9-member committee.” The problem that he ignores is that when the committee chair who determines which bills get a hearing is an anti-gun Democrat, it doesn’t matter if there are eight Republicans on the committee or five. The truth is that one need only have to count to ONE to recognize the reality that Speaker Bonnen tapped Chairman Nevarez to kill constitutional carry and serious gun rights legislation.
As he finished up his Facebook diatribe, Speaker Bonnen played the emotional plea for support by calling those of us that have been exposing his record as nothing more than “hateful and uneducated vitriol.” This is a premonition of things that were to come this legislative session. He concluded with a wager to his critics of “an AR-15 that their gun rights won’t be infringed” by the end of the 86th Legislature. He then said he would continue working with “tried-and-true gun rights organizations” to “actually strengthen the rights for those of us who are responsible gun owners.” We look forward to picking up our new rifles.
This Facebook post speaks volumes about what Speaker Bonnen thinks about law abiding Texans who are fed up with Texas leading from the rear on gun rights legislation. These same people are tired of the fact that Texas was the 45th state to legalize the open carry of firearms and remains one of only 14 states that requires a license to carry a firearm in any way. Under Speaker Bonnen’s leadership, Texas has grown closer to California, New York, and Illinois with our gun laws. Naturally, he believes that since the NRA is willing to suck up to bad politicians and provide cover for his bad policies and lack of action that everyone else is either “fringe” or not “tried-and-true.” In the Speaker’s world, if you don’t line his campaign coffers, you’re not worth his time and your rights are meaningless.
By mid-March, we were promised a fair hearing and vote for HB 357, the Constitutional Carry bill in the House, “within 2-3 weeks” by Chairman Nevarez himself. He scheduled a hearing on the bill for March 27th, the same day as the general appropriations bill debate on the House floor. Using that as an excuse, he postponed the hearing without giving another date. However, Speaker Bonnen concocted a plan to kill the bill by early April and found the excuse they were looking for with the help of Chairman Nevarez.
With Constitutional Carry legislation languishing in committee, Texas Gun Rights Executive Director Chris McNutt visited the districts of several key legislators to drop leaflets about the potential failure of the bill between March 25-27. On the 27th, the day that HB 357 should have received a hearing, he arrived in Speaker Bonnen’s district and began leaving leaflets on voters’ doors. The flyer being left on doors in the various districts – something no different than what Speaker Bonnen and his people do while begging for our votes with false promises every two years – simply notified voters that Speaker Bonnen was blocking HB 357 and asked them to call and push the Speaker to advance the legislation.
Speaker Bonnen was quick to formulate a plan to use this 1st Amendment-protected activity as the basis for full throated attack on the 2nd Amendment. He concocted a brilliant narrative and contacted local media to help push it, accusing Mr. McNutt of intimidation tactics. He initially claimed that the visit scared his wife and kids, who were allegedly home at the time. Later, he was forced to admit that his wife was not home, but changed the story to say that his son was home. Regardless, Speaker Bonnen spread the false narrative that Mr. McNutt went to his home with the intent to scare him into pushing constitutional carry. By April 5th, even national media had picked up on the story and Speaker Bonnen probably assumed he had successfully killed what he now publicly calls “bad policy” without taking the blame for doing so. Perhaps he thought he could get away with creating a magnificent story of “intimidation” and “fringe gun rights groups” to take the heat off of himself to kill a bill he didn’t support anyway.
On April 6, the Texas State Rifle Association (TSRA) sent out an email to its membership to provide cover for the disgraced Speaker. In the email, the TSRA claims that Mr. McNutt’s group, Texas Gun Rights, “and its out of state national group refuse to show their faces in Austin to actually participate in the legislative process.” The TSRA seems just as predisposed to lying to its members as Speaker Bonnen is to lying to his. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. McNutt is frequently seen in the Texas Capitol working with legislators. They further called the act of sending mailings and leaflets to voters that highlight the misdeeds of supposedly pro-gun legislators as “ill-advised attacks…towards lawmakers with a history of supporting our rights.” In sharing this post on his Facebook page, Speaker Bonnen doubled down on his claims of being “incessantly harassed by fanatical gun rights activists who want to eradicate sensible gun policies.” This sounds more in line with something Michael Bloomberg would say than a pro-gun legislator and his water carriers in the TSRA. Not content with lying about the actions of Mr. McNutt, Speaker Bonnen chose to attack HB 357 as a bill that would “make it impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between law abiding gun owners and criminals,” even suggesting that the bill allowed criminals to carry without a license.
As if all of the above were not detrimental enough to the credibility of Speaker Bonnen, at a recent Texas GOP fundraiser, the Speaker confronted Mr. McNutt who was invited by a top donor who had purchased three VIP tables before the current manufactured controversy. According to attendees, Speaker Bonnen slapped Mr. McNutt on the back and proceeded to angrily dress him down in front of other guests. The situation was so tense that one of the guests attempted to de-escalate the situation who eventually urged the Speaker to leave after several attempts to reason with him. Speaker Bonnen was scheduled to speak at the event.
Over the weekend, the Texas Grassroots Gun Rights Coalition (made up of Texas Gun Rights, Lone Star Gun Rights, Open Carry Texas, Texas Firearms Freedom, and Veterans for the Preservation of Gun Rights) obtained and released the body cam footage from the March 27th “incident” outside Speaker Bonnen’s residence. This was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Texas Department of Public Safety. The footage completely exonerates and verifies TXGR Executive Director Chris McNutt’s accounts, and undoubtedly proves that the stories portrayed by the national media were an entirely fabricated lie.
This incident would never have made even local news if not for someone with a high amount of influence fabricating and distributing it to the media. Given the various other lies that Speaker Bonnen has told about this incident, and about Constitutional Carry in general since the beginning of session, it is our belief that the Speaker fabricated this story to fracture the grassroots and paint us as extremist. The Speaker said on the Chad Hasty Show that DPS informed him that Chris McNutt “flashed his gun” in an attempt to intimidate the staff at Rep. Burrows’ district office on March 25th, which lead to DPS protection being dispatched to the Speaker’s residence. This is one more lie, this time spoken over the airwaves of Lubbock. Not only was Chris McNutt not armed with a firearm or any other weapon during the three days he traveled to those districts (as he flew via Southwest Airlines to those locations and never checked any baggage), but when asked, a senior DPS official confirmed to LSGR’s Derek Wills that he had “no knowledge” of any incident or threat coming from Rep. Burrows’ district office that involved Chris McNutt, or any member of any grassroots gun rights organization.
Speaker Bonnen has consistently stated in the media that the place to talk to him is the Capitol, not at his home, however, members of each of these groups has tried multiple times to schedule a meeting with the Speaker only to be ignored. The Speaker has never made himself available to members of this coalition in any way despite repeated attempts.
Today, our coalition calls for Speaker Bonnen to do the following:
Publicly admit that the events regarding Chris McNutt that he portrayed to the media were, in fact, untrue; and
Publicly apologize for spreading lies about Chris McNutt and grassroots organizations; and
Publicly apologize for assaulting Chris McNutt at the RPT Spring Fundraiser; and
Publicly admit that his statements regarding Constitutional Carry allowing criminals to legally carry handguns were false; and
Publicly call for the House to prioritize HB357 for immediate passage.</ol>
While these actions will not correct the wrong committed by the Speaker, nor will it change his opinion that Constitutional Carry is “bad policy,” taking responsibility for one’s actions is an important first step, and it is our hope that the truth will be just as widespread as the false reports.
<em>About the Texas Grassroots Gun Rights Coalition: The TGGRC is a coalition of grassroots, Texas-based gun rights organizations dedicated to bringing Texas back to its founding principles of respect for the Second Amendment. Combined, they represent nearly a half million Texas gun owners who are concerned about the destruction of gun rights and holding government officials accountable to expand liberty in the Lone Star State. It is comprised of Open Carry Texas, Lone Star Gun Rights, Texas Firearms Freedom, Texas Gun Rights, and Veterans for the Preservation of Gun Rights.</em>