Why Did the Houston Zoo Bend Over for Gun Rights Advocates?

The Houston Zoo removed its 30.06 sign and lifted its gun ban almost immediately after T. Edwin Walker complained, but other government-owned properties in Texas are putting up more of a fight.
The Houston Zoo removed its 30.06 sign and lifted its gun ban almost immediately after T. Edwin Walker complained, but other government-owned properties in Texas are putting up more of a fight.
Photo courtesy of T. Edwin Walker

Since local lawyer and gun rights advocate T. Edwin Walker successfully had the Houston Zoo's gun ban removed in September, other gun advocates across Texas are pushing for similar signs to come down in public spaces ranging from botanical gardens to nature preserves to police departments.But not everyplace with a sign and a gun ban is folding before the gun rights crowd as easily as the Houston Zoo did. 

Walker recently sent the same demand letter that worked in Houston to the Dallas Zoo, and our neighbors up north were far less accommodating to his request. Like the Houston Zoo, the Dallas Zoo is a privately run facility sitting on city-owned property. Unlike the Houston Zoo, the Dallas Zoo refused Walker's request to remove the sign and lift its gun ban, prompting Walker to complain to the Attorney General's office for review, which could lead to a lengthy legal battle, according to the Dallas Morning News

The controversy surrounds a specific sign citing Texas government code 30.06, which prohibits concealed carry on certain government properties. The Houston Zoo seems to be the only such property to surrender so swiftly. Public records show that many other properties challenged by gun-rights advocates either refused to remove the 30.06 signs or took down the signs but kept the official gun ban in place, prompting citizens to follow through and notify the Attorney General through a formal complaint process that was recently signed into law.

While most zoos defend their gun bans on the basis that they are essentially educational institutions, the main point of dispute in many of these complaints — especially concerning city halls — is whether or not the property in question fits the legal definition of a "government court."

For example, while Austin city hall admitted that its longstanding 30.06 sign wasn't legal and needed to be reworded, city attorneys maintained that the gun ban itself was in fact legal because the city's community court holds monthly sessions at city hall. State law prohibits weapons, licensed or otherwise, in government courts without written authorization. The lone man to file a complaint against the 30.06 sign in Austin city hall was Texas gun shop owner Michael Cargill, who claimed in his complaint that Austin city hall's 30.06 sign was simply "a fear-mongering tactic" and was "clearly an anti-second amendment political maneuver." He also accused city hall of occasionally holding community court "for the sole purpose of prohibiting" license holders from carrying concealed weapons inside. 

Many of these complaints were filed within the last month or so and have not yet been ruled on by the Attorney General. But the complaints do provide a glimpse into the mindset of motivated gun-rights advocates willing to drag their signage disputes through the legal system, and they show the long list of institutions that did not back down from their strict gun policies. 

Complainants took aim at just about every possible type of government-owned property, including county courthouses, appraisal offices, convention centers, community centers, a sports complex, fire departments, police departments, career services centers, parks and recreation departments, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, nature preserves, and, of course, zoos. The stated reasons for the complaints range from small-potatoes stuff to clear political grandstanding. For example, one complainant wanted to remove the 30.06 sign at a nature preserve outside Dallas so his wife could pack heat while working behind a booth during a concert:

“The city of Mineola has posted a 30.06 sign at the drive-in entrance to the city of Mineola nature preserve," the man wrote in his complaint. "The police chief advises that because of an upcoming concert they want to ban firearms from the event because alcohol will be served. However, my wife, who will NOT be drinking at the event and is simply working at a sponsor tent is now going to be banned from carrying her firearm with her [concealed handgun license]."

Meanwhile, recently elected Abilene city councilman and small-town shit magnate “Stinky” Steve Savage went a bit off the rails in his impassioned complaint, and in a short email (sent from his iPad) to the Attorney General's office he expressed his dismay at seeing 30.06 signs in Abilene's city hall:

I have Never been so disappointed in all of my life, and I would not use the word "logic" as there is none in any gun free zone. Left wing Gun Grabbing Liberals have claimed for more than a decade that if more people are carrying guns we would have more gun violence, but FBI stats prove otherwise. Chicago is known for having the toughest gun laws in the United States and as of September of this year they have had 2300 people get shot. The whole city was basically a gun free zone- how's that working out?

... open carry finally passed because our state legislature understood the necessity to allow Texas to be more Gun Friendly as we were one of only six states who didn't allow some form of open carry of a handgun. Campus carry goes into effect August of 2016. That's the kind of Logic I support.

Stinky Steve's logic is not supported by facts. There is no FBI statistical data set in existence that proves, one way or the other, the role of licensed gun ownership in the causation of gun violence. (Also, as of November 8, 2015, there have been 2,103 reported shooting incidents in Chicago). According to the Chicago Tribune the city's gun laws really aren't that strict, and per the New York Times most of the guns recovered by Chicago police between 2001 and 2012 actually came from out of state anyway (including 937 from Texas), which makes it seem like Chicago's tough gun laws aren't working at least in part because other states don't have them.

Whether the Attorney General sides with Stinky Steve here or not, it's clear that Walker's success at shutting down the Houston Zoo's gun ban has opened the floodgates for gun rights advocates across Texas, — and they're facing much more pushback than Walker ever did from the Houston Zoo.


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