On April 20, the controversial open carry bill passed the Texas House of Representatives. This bill allows licensed handgun owners to carry guns in a hip or shoulder holster. An amendment by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, which forbids the police to stop a person for wearing a holstered weapon, was also approved. Whether arguing for or against open carry, there is a sizable reason for concern with this amendment.
The amendment states that officers cannot make “an investigatory stop or other temporary detention to inquire as to whether a person possesses a handgun license” even when they visibly carry a gun. This basically enables unlicensed carry.
Supporters of the amendment, such as Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, say that without it, people do not truly have open carry. That is a gross exaggeration. There is a difference between carrying a gun around visibly with an officer asking to see documentation and not being able to openly carry at all. One scenario is cautious, as it should be with guns involved. In the other scenario forbidding police to ask for a license, there is practically no reason to even have a license, which is foolish. Unless someone commits a handgun-related crime, there is no way for the police to know if someone is openly carrying around a handgun without a license.
Rinaldi went on to say it was an issue of probable cause. “The police officers, just like if you’re driving a car, need some reasonable suspicion of a crime or reasonable suspicion that the person is unlicensed,” Rinaldi said. The argument seems reasonable up until the point he compared cars to guns. The likelihood of someone running a car into a bank to rob it is far less likely than someone brandishing a weapon and taking money.
The amendment is not without merit, however. If open carry becomes lawful statewide, it could become obnoxious to repeatedly get stopped while carrying a gun. Dutton created the amendment to prevent racial profiling.
That is an entirely different issue. It is, sadly, easy to see a future in which racial profiling is heightened by police officers only stopping minorities openly carrying a gun. However, disallowing police from asking anyone is not the solution, and is even dangerous. Racial profiling by police forces is definitely an issue nationally, but this amendment will not stop it.
Handgun licenses exist for a reason. It is to ensure that the person is properly trained in using a firearm and knows the laws behind using the weapon. Without the ability to inquire about it, police are unable to assure the public that people toting around guns actually know what they are doing. This amendment does not take into account the need for the general public to feel safe.
How can anyone feel safe if anyone can carry around a gun without question. While that was not at all the intent of the amendment, if passed by the Senate, that is what it enables.
Hopefully, the Senate will have more sense than the House of Representatives.