Open Carry Set for State Senate Showdown

As a fan of the late, great Justified, a TV show in which every major character either fatally shot someone or was the target of gunfire (or both!), whenever the open-carry debate pops up, I sometimes think, “sure, waving guns around in public, whatever. That happened every single episode on Justified and they all got their just desserts in the end.” But then I remember that, IRL, not every person has their own gimlet-eyed, sharpshooting Raylan Givens to save their ass during a bar fight/traffic accident/bad date needlessly escalated by the flashing of pieces.

Sadly, my imaginary Raylan Givens amendment—providing one person who actually knows how and when to use a gun for every yahoo with the minimum amount of handgun training openly carrying in most public places—has not yet managed to attach itself to HB 910, Texas’ so-called “open-carry bill” that has already occasioned the need for panic buttons to be installed in the state capitol. 

Sponsored by state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), the bill passed out of its Texas Senate committee today on a vote of 5-to-1. The NRA-backed legislation will now proceed to be heard by the heat-packing, GOP-packed state Senate. An amendment by Houston’s state Representative Harold Dutton to prohibit police from stopping anyone carrying a handgun solely to check for their required license did not make it out of committee.

The committee hearing came just a day after a massive shootout involving more than 170 people erupted at a restaurant in Waco; nine of the fighting rival gang members died, and several others were wounded. According to the AP, what began as a fistfight quickly escalated to involve knives and guns. Remarkably, for a gunfight that took place at a shopping center at noon on a weekend, no bystander was injured, according to the Waco Police Department.

To some giving testimony at the open carry hearing this afternoon, the events in Waco highlighted the need for tighter gun regulations in general. For law enforcement, it was an example of a highly charged situation made more dangerous for responding officers. Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Troy Gay, who spoke against the bill on the behalf of his force, said open carry could have confused an already chaotic situation, echoing comments made by Harris County Sherriff Adrian Garcia in a February senate hearing on the bill. However, some open carry supporters doubted the law would have made much of a difference, as they suggested many of the gang members wielding guns likely weren’t licensed to carry at all. Eventually, committee member Brian Birdwell (R-Ft. Worth) and State Affairs chairwoman Joan Huffman (R-Houston) weighed in, stating that what happened in Waco had “nothing to do” with the legislation being discussed. 

Although Texas is actually in the minority of states prohibiting open carry of firearms, that doesn’t mean the legislation has wide support in the state. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed that 60 percent of respondents identifying as Republican support current concealed carry law (allowing Texans to carry firearms as long as they have a license to do so and remain concealed) compared to only 22 percent who would support open carry with a license. Those numbers are predictably much lower for Democrats. According to the poll, virtually no one thinks open carry without a license (a pet notion of state House representative/gadfly Jonathan Stickland) is a good idea … except respondents identifying as “Tea Party” supporters. But even their responses were almost evenly split between concealed carry, open carry with a license, and open carry without a license.

While it’s likely that the open carry bill will sail through the rest of its legislative journey, Texans uncomfortable with all those holsters on display can take comfort in the fact that businesses and public institutions would still be allowed to prohibit firearms on their premises. However, some gun safety advocates worry that a version of “campus carry” could still show up as an amendment at a later date.
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Callie Enlow