Texans love their guns. There’s no doubt about it. It’s imbued in our cultural character, and even outside of our borders, the notion of the weather-beaten cattleman with Colt’s Peacemaker slung low on his hip coincides with a “tumbleweeds and swinging saloon door” vision of the Lone Star State.
The problem is, starting in 1871, that cowboy potentially faced a hefty fine and, after 1889, jail time for openly carrying his Single Action Army revolver.
Contextual history: Postbellum Texas
The genesis of the ban on the open carry of sidearms in Texas, the first state to curtail that freedom, is steeped in Reconstruction Era oppression.
While, ostensibly, both freedmen and former Confederate soldiers were banned from openly carrying pistols, it’s not much of a logical stretch to presume that the former group was disproportionately targeted for enforcement. Even earlier, a provision of Texas’ 1866 Black Codes prohibited “…any person or persons to carry fire-arms on the enclosed premises or plantation of any citizen without the consent of the owner…”, a measure whose particular target demographic isn’t difficult to deduce.
While equality of enforcement is much more even-handed in the 21st century than the 19th, that the open carry ban itself was historically abused and used as a means for repression is reason enough for me to seriously consider overturning it.
The modern quandary
While openly carrying long guns has always been generally lawful, the question of who can carry what pistols and where remains a somewhat vague legal grey area. Before Texas passed its “shall issue” Concealed Handgun License provision in 1995, Texas citizens were lawfully able to conceal handguns in their vehicles while “traveling” without any kind of license, on private property owned by the carrier, and to and from a “sporting event,” which included hunting, going to the range, etc.
The problem was, and to an extent remains, defining terms like “traveling” and “sporting event.” Though somewhat settled by the Motorist Protection Act, they’ve never really been clarified by the statutes, and still remain subject to interpretation.
CHL holders, of course, can carry anywhere not prohibited by law, where a property owner forbids it, or where the humorously coincidental(?) 30.06 sign is lawfully posted (which, for those not from here, states that the business forbids weapons at the location). But even though possessing a CHL solves many of the problems of the vagaries of Texas’ weapons laws for the holder, licensees still face the perpetual paranoia of “printing.”
It’s hot here in Texas for five months out of the year, and light, loose clothing like cargo shorts and golf shirts are the uniform de rigueur for much of the gun-toting population during that time. Depending on how you carry, such attire can be less than effective at hiding the outline of a weapon, and while not a major source of enforcement concern, it may still be regarded as a violation if a bystander can discern the shape of an otherwise concealed weapon through thin clothing.
How to fix it
There are two main ideological camps proposing legislation to address Texas’ open carry situation. The first and most vocal group consists of hardcore gun rights activists who want to effectively abolish any and all state-level restrictions on or qualifications for gun ownership and use, collectively known as the “Constitutional Carry” camp, led by Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), and Rep. Jonathan Strickland (R-Bedford).
Their rationale is that the 2nd Amendment, universally and without qualification, grants citizens the absolute right to possess and carry weapons for self-defense. Their ideological purity has appeal, but their proponents’ bombastic and confrontational tactics have been somewhat of a public relations nightmare recently.
In one incident, Open Carry Tarrant County, led by Kory Watkins, occupied the office of Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D) of Eagle Pass, a vocal opponent of expanding gun rights, and refused to leave for a time. They eventually departed, but the incident and subsequent threatening video Watkins posted online were so unsettling that it prompted the installation of panic buttons in legislative offices, legislators from both parties to sport “I am Poncho” wristbands, and Speaker Joe Strauss to decry the group’s tactics.
Substance is paramount, of course, but presentation is also vital to advancing an agenda. Aggressively storming legislative offices and irritating the entire legislative body that you wish to act on your behalf is, in 2015, not a very good way of getting what you want.
The less strident group, consisting of most of the rest of the 2nd Amendment friendly Republican dominated legislature, are more moderate in their approach to open carry decriminalization and hence, more likely to actually get a bill passed… in theory. Unfortunately, these moderates seem much less focused on the issue and less likely to advance legislation. So the audacity of the “open carry hordes” may still provoke some good.
When Lt. Governor Dan Patrick backed away from his open carry position during an interview, stating the issue lacked the “level of prioritizing” to get time in the Senate, the backlash was immediate and vociferous. He has since re-aligned his position towards getting a bill through committee, and Governor Abbott has repeatedly indicated he would enthusiastically sign a bill to allow Texans to enjoy the same open carry rights 36 other states’ citizens already enjoy.
The statutory approach of the moderates would be something akin to the extant CHL provision, which mandates classroom training, a practical shooting test, and a background check, and would do much to remove the legal vagaries and hazards suffered by both CHL holders and the non-licensed alike.
While “guns as a right” groups balk at the conditions, most folks, this author included, don’t see much of a problem with the stipulations. The infrastructure and methodology for such open carry licensing is already essentially in place, and would have only a minimal fiscal impact, if any at all. Buy all the weapons you want, but to demonstrate to the state and your fellow citizens that you know how to safely wield your sidearm in public is not too much to ask.
H/T: Lauren McGaughy
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.