Anti-gun lawmakers in Texas are like anti-cheese members of the Wisconsin State Assembly. Both are breeds of politician that don't really exist in their respective states.
We're a gun-totin' constituency here, and, when you consider background checks submitted to the feds for gun-purchase applications every year, it looks like we buy more firearms than any other state. When the progressive, abortion rights-crusading Wendy Davis hit the campaign trail in her ill-fated quest for the governor's seat last year, even she (to the ire of many liberals) championed expanding gun rights in Texas (post-election, however, Davis says she regrets taking that position).
And, if the first day of the 84th Texas Legislature is any indicator, gun rights could become a strange, sleeping wedge issue this session, one that simmers beneath the surface dividing run-of-the-mill Second Amendment believers from the true die-hard gun buffs.
While the state's political press yesterday focused heavily on the customary biennial pageantry of Texas Lege: Day One -- in which a fringe group of state lawmakers pretend they've drummed up enough support confirm a new, hard-right leaning Tea Party House Speaker, only to have the House vote to maintain the status quo -- the so-called open carry movement made a noticeable showing at the Texas Capitol. Outside on the statehouse steps, a demonstration of shotgun- and assault rifle-toting activists circulated throughout opening day. Inside the capitol, open carry activists were even kicked out of a state lawmaker's office after calling him "a tyrant to the Constitution of the United States of America."
A video posted by Kory Watkins, a member of Open Carry Tarrant County, shows gun activists confronting State Rep. Poncho Nevarez, a Democrat from Eagle Pass, in his capitol office Tuesday. The crew of gun-rights supporters was apparently shopping a bill filed by GOP Rep. Jonathan Stickland, which, if passed, would allow Texans to openly carry handguns without even obtaining a license.
Nevarez already looks exasperated by the time the camera starts rolling. "We need a yes vote from you, and if you don't wanna vote yes, we're gonna start shopping for somebody that will," someone in the group tells Nevarez. The lawmaker replies, "I don't wanna vote yes. Go shop for them. Hard core."
One open carry activist asks Nevarez, "Do you like the constitution?" while another says, "As far as I'm concerned, you're a tyrant to the Constitution of the United States of America." It's at that point that Nevarez tells the group to leave. "I'm asking you to leave my office," Nevarez says. An open carry guy replies, "I'm asking you to leave my state."
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From the video, it appears that whoever was filming even tried to block the door with his foot when Nevarez tried to shut it. Before the video cuts out, the group is seen standing out in a capitol hallway. The cameraman turns to another guy (maybe security or a Nevarez staffer, although it's unclear from the video), and gets even more confrontational: "What are you gonna do? Read the constitution. What are you gonna do, touch me? Creepin' up behind me? That would be the wrong move, bro."
This type of deliberately confrontational behavior -- over guns, on the first day of the legislative session -- is even more sobering when you consider it's actually easier to get into the State Capitol with a concealed carry license than without one (no line, no metal detector, no routine security check for concealed carriers).
A quick search of Nevarez's voting history shows he's clearly not the House's most ardent supporter of expanding gun rights. Last session, he voted against bills that would have allowed for concealed handguns on college campuses, one that would have "prohibited federal enforcement of firearm regulations," and another bill that would have reduced the hours needed for concealed handgun license training. But these are status quo-type votes that simply maintain current gun regulations, not, say, votes supporting an assault-rifles ban or mandating background checks at gun shows.
Even some open carriers didn't appreciate the tactics on display inside the capitol yesterday. C.J. Grisham, a retired Army officer who founded the group Open Carry Texas, told the Texas Tribune that he broke off from the group that descended on Nevarez's office shortly before the confrontation. "It was intimidation, it was talking down, it was speaking over, it was childishness, and it did absolutely zero to even engage in conversation," he told the Tribune.