In late March, a visit to House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s home in Lake Jackson by constitutional carry activist, Chris McNutt, resulted in a fiery he-said he-said incident. Originally reported by The Facts, a Brazoria County newspaper, McNutt visited the Speaker’s home on March 27. The visit, which Speaker Bonnen called “gutless,” occurred while the House was in session at the Capitol. Bonnen said his children and wife were home during the visit.
McNutt, Executive Director of Texas Gun Rights (TXGR), was canvassing in Bonnen’s neighborhood in support of Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s (R-Bedford) constitutional carry bill, HB 357 — just as he had done in Rep. Dustin Burrows’ district in Lubbock and Rep. Four Price’s district in Amarillo the week before. In fact, McNutt posted on Facebook about these visits, which is what tipped off the Department of Public Safety to station state troopers outside the Speaker’s house.
That following week, Bonnen’s response to the incident appeared in several news reports. In a statement to the Washington Post, Bonnen described the home visit as an “intimidation tactic” used by a “fringe organization’s leader.” Speaker Bonnen’s wife, Kim, expressed her concern to the Houston Chronicle that McNutt “Showing up [to her home] with a T-shirt with a machine gun on it” freaked her out. She also added that “This cannot become how we advocate.”
Texas Gun Rights is a non-profit Second Amendment advocacy organization with the stated mission of “seek[ing] to inform gun owners and liberty activists in Texas on their candidates’ positions on firearms issues.” The flier McNutt was distributing read “Please call Speaker Dennis Bonnen to insist that he advance Constitutional Carry (HB 357) to the House floor for a vote!” It then included the Speaker’s office number.
McNutt, however, claims the incident did not unfold how Bonnen described. McNutt spoke with The Texan about the drama between Bonnen and him. After he parked the car, McNutt got out and spoke to the troopers stationed by the house, explaining who he was and why he was there — including showing them the flier he had been canvassing with. “They seemed to think that everything I was doing was completely okay, so much so that…the trooper offered to place the flier on the door for me,” McNutt said — a fact the receiving officer’s statement corroborates. McNutt described the interaction as “nothing short of professional.” The officer involved stated in his written report of the incident, “McNutt did not make any threatening statements towards Representative Bonnen or his people.”
McNutt then said he carried on his business canvassing the other houses he had selected that included “multiple elected officials, [Bonnen’s] donors, and Texas Gun Rights members.” All of this information is available to the public by accessing campaign finance reports and voter rolls — which is how McNutt built his walk list. McNutt stated his intention of canvassing was to “encourage [Bonnen’s] constituents to contact the Speaker and urge him to advance the constitutional carry bill instead of continuing to block it.”
The Texan received the bodycam footage of McNutt’s visit on April 22. The below video shows McNutt approaching the state troopers stationed outside Bonnen’s house. The interaction lasted about 10 minutes and happened in the street away from the Speaker’s house.
About two weeks after the incident, Bonnen appeared on talk radio host Chad Hasty’s show to discuss — among other things — the March 27 occurrence. In the interview, Bonnen expressed his displeasure with the way McNutt went about his business. “It’s BS,” Hasty said, with Bonnen concurring. The Speaker then said the same thing happened to Rep. Price and Rep. Burrows — the latter of which received a district office visit from McNutt as well. Bonnen said of that interaction, McNutt “flashed his gun in [Burrows’] district office to the staff.” Bonnen called McNutt’s tactics “despicable.”
McNutt said of this accusation “I was not carrying a firearm the entire [trip].” McNutt left his sidearm back home in Richardson because “[I] hate[s] checking bags” when flying and checking the firearm would have “defeated the whole purpose of TSA pre-check.” The officer’s statement testified that he did not observe McNutt carrying at the time of their interaction outside the Speaker’s home.
In the Hasty interview, Bonnen dubbed HB 357 “criminal carry,” repeatedly saying it would allow felons to carry firearms. The bill summary reads “relating to the carrying of a firearm by a person who is not otherwise prohibited from possessing the firearm and to criminal offenses otherwise related to the carrying of a firearm.”
The dispute boiled over at an April 9 fundraiser, at which Bonnen was set to speak. Both men were invited by Darlene Pendery, a Republican donor, well before the March 27 incident had occurred. Bonnen admonished McNutt for his role in the incident, later stating that “these people think threatening your family…is the way to participate in the process.”
At a press conference on April 23, McNutt was joined by Dudley Brown, President of the National Association for Gun Rights, and attorney Jesse Binnall in calling for an “apology and retraction” from Speaker Bonnen. “Speaker Bonnen[‘s] scurrilous lies about [McNutt] are meant to hide his activities in killing [concealed carry legislation] in Texas,” Brown declared. Binnall stated the organization is “investigating whether Bonnen’s intimidation tactics involved misappropriation of state resources.”
About constitutional carry’s future prospects in the Texas, McNutt said: “We’re going to continue on with our program.” TXGR, McNutt added, would “make sure that Speaker Bonnen, and those involved, will be held accountable for their actions” by challenging them in primaries and continuing to advocate for constitutional carry.
Speaker Bonnen’s spokeswoman said in response to the press conference, “It appears someone has forgotten the law of holes. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
McNutt said of the entire episode, “It was a fabricated media hit job by the Speaker.”
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.