With a Republican-controlled state Legislature and a new governor, Texas may soon lift its 140-year-old ban on the open carry of handguns. At least six bills proposing some form of open carry have been filed for the 2015 session and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pledged to sign any of them that manage to pass the Legislature.
Legalizing open carry may seem harmless, and some say it’s a step toward preserving Second Amendment rights. However, if a bill that legalizes handgun open carry passes, it could end up backfiring and actually lead to more restrictive gun laws in the future.
Texas, California, New York, South Carolina, Florida and Illinois are the only U.S. states with a complete ban on the open carry of handguns; Washington, D.C., also has a ban on open carry handguns.
The fact that Texas is a minority on a restrictive gun law may surprise some, but a closer look at the numbers suggests otherwise. The six states that do not make up a third of the U.S. population and are home to six of the seven largest population centers. So when population is a factor, the ban makes a lot more sense.
There is a reason that Texas and other large population hubs have this ban. UCLA law professor Adam Winkler explained that large urban areas have traditionally had the strictest controls on weapons in public because of concerns over guns in crowds and crime control.
So why change the law now? So far it seems as if none of the state officials who are proponents of open carry can give a good reason, or even understand why Texas passed the ban.
“The idea is we’re going to return our Second Amendment rights. I can’t imagine what the citizens would do if they had to take a class or pay a fee to use their First Amendment rights,” said Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.
The problem with Stickland’s argument is that no right is unlimited, even free speech. The Second Amendment does not guarantee unlimited access to weapons or the right to openly carry weapons in public.
Abbott wants to lift the ban for other reasons.
“If open carry is good enough for Massachusetts, it’s good enough for the state of Texas,” Abbott said.
Not only is the governor’s logic bad, because Texas and Massachusetts are completely different places, but his statement was also insulting to Massachusetts.
According to state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Texas first banned the carrying of handguns “when the carpet-bagger government was very anxious about former Confederates and recently freed slaves carrying firearms.” Not only is this an antiquated way of looking at the situation, this statement is actually false. Texas banned the open carry of handguns in 1875 because of the violence surrounding cowboys during the Wild West era. Even if Patterson were correct, just because a law was passed for one purpose does not mean it has no renewed value and purpose today.
It is questionable why anyone would want to openly carry a weapon, especially when Texas implemented a great concealed handgun license program that is accessible to any law-abiding citizen. Openly carrying weapons in public could not only make others nervous, but makes the person carrying the weapon a target. If anyone actually wants to cause trouble, the person obviously carrying a weapon will probably be the first to be shot.
Some people say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The problem is that people don’t go around wearing signs saying good guy or bad guy. Nobody knows if that person is planning to attack them or if they’re just someone who feels the need to bring a shotgun with them while they buy milk.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America, an open carry opponent group, said carrying guns on the street is less about gun rights than intimidation. Claire Elizabeth heads the group’s Texas chapter and echoed this sentiment, saying, “There is no way to know … if that person is a threat to moms and our children.”
For example, since the open carry of rifles and shotguns is legal in Texas, open carry proponents have started to stage open carry demonstrations. The group Open Carry Texas is known for these demonstrations in which they carry large rifles into public areas. The most recent results of Open Carry Texas’ actions included Sonic, Chili’s, Chipotle Wendy’s, Jack in the Box and Applebee’s in a complete ban of firearms from their premises.
On May 30, 2014, the NRA posted an unsigned statement on its website that stated, “Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That’s not the Texas way. And that’s certainly not the NRA way. Not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself.
“To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.” The NRA retracted the anonymous statement a few days later.
The editorial board wants to be clear in saying this is not an anti-gun or Second Amendment editorial. There are multiple gun enthusiasts and Texas state concealed handgun-licensed individuals on the editorial board.
We simply believe that open carry laws don’t improve anything for the lives of Texans but may lead to more restrictive gun laws in the future.
There doesn’t seem to be a good reason to lift this ban. Lifting the ban on handgun open carry isn’t responsible and it does not better society.
Texas should be proud that it is one of the few states with enough sense to ban this practice and not regress to a bad policy.