Less than a week after a Fort Hood shooting that left four dead, advocates for and against gun control clashed Monday at a hearing before state lawmakers as they discussed proposals that would allow Texans to openly carry handguns.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security invited testimony about gun laws from groups including the National Rifle Association, Open Carry Texas and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, as well as from the public. Current state law allows concealed carry of handguns, such as a firearm hidden in a holster, with a concealed carry permit, and open carry of long arms is legal without a permit. Open carry of a handgun in public, however, is illegal. That might change in the next legislative session, as both gubernatorial candidates Sen. Wendy Davis and Attorney General Greg Abbott support allowing Texans with licenses to visibly sport their weapons.
“For young people, this year will be the first year where gun violence is more deadly than auto accidents,” Jamie Addams, a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national organization for gun reform, told lawmakers. “From our perspective, because there’re no [universal] background checks in place, it’s impossible to know a good guy with a gun from a bad guy with a gun.”
The law allowing Texans to carry concealed handguns in public passed about 20 years ago. However, it remains technically legal to carry a rifle or shotgun in plain view.
“We aren’t plowing any new ground here,” said lobbyist Tara Reilly-Mica of the National Rifle Association. “We’re talking about changing a method of carrying, not any of the qualifications or requirements we go into with [acquiring] a license.”
The fact that Texans can already carry long guns openly concerns Stephanie Lundy, a member of Moms Demand Action.
“It’s important that people understand in Texas, there are no regulations of any kind in carrying a long gun in public,” she said. “Anyone with any background, without training, can carry loaded, high-capacity weapons in restaurants, stores, wherever.”
While it is legal, the police often frown on someone walking down the street with a rifle thrown over their shoulder, said C.J. Grisham, the president of Open Carry Texas. He told lawmakers he was arrested last year when he took a hunting rifle on a hike with his son in Temple.
"I wasn’t pointing it at anywhere or threatening anyone, yet I was arrested because I refused to voluntarily surrender my firearm when I wasn’t breaking any laws," Grisham said.
Those who attended the eight-hour hearing, which also covered border security and crime statistics, were largely in support of open carry proposals.
When state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, reminded the audience that everyone in the room supported the Second Amendment, he was met with audible sneers.
“I would be worried if I saw someone with a gun walking around H-E-B or Starbucks,” said state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who was detained by McAllen airport authorities in 2005 for carrying a gun, which he said he had forgotten about, in his briefcase. Openly carrying a gun in a grocery store or coffee shop, he said, would be a combination of “bad taste and bad manners.”
Those who opposed open carry were outnumbered by gun rights activists at the meeting. Gun rights supporters said that Texas is one of only six states that bans open carry of handguns, and that states that allow open carry have not reported higher crime rates.
As of Feb. 12, there have been 44 school shootings since the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting in 2012 at an elementary school, according to Moms Demand Action. The latest information from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an affiliate of Moms Demand Action, reports an even higher number — 60 school shootings in the past 15 months.
Since November 2012, Texas lawmakers have adopted a policy that allows college students to carry guns in their cars and have reduced the training hours needed for concealed handgun licenses.