The Austin Chronicle

Page Three: Open Season

There's no way to process 2015 without worrying how much worse it's going to get once Texas' open carry law goes into effect

By Kimberley Jones, January 1, 2016, Columns

"It is time we started a conversation about just when and where loaded firearms should be considered socially acceptable, not just what the law allows."

Reader Susan Cook wrote that last week in a letter to the editor. Because I'm a content provider – the fashionable term now for people who jam journalism into the Internet's trash compactor – my first thought when reading her letter was, hmm, there's a fun story there: the Ps & Qs of open carry. (No wearing white after Labor Day, fancy-dress holsters suggested for PTA meetings!) My second thought was more sober: Oh shit, this is really happening.

Our annual Top 10s issue is devoted to the year that was, not the one that will be here soon enough. But there's no way to process 2015 – a year in which mass shootings became as regular as sunrise and sunset, and presidential candidates made a recruiting tool out of xenophobia and religious intolerance – without worrying how much worse it's going to get once Texas' open carry law goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Though Gov. Abbott may think Austin – Texas' seat of government since 1839 – is too liberal to live in, the fact is, we're not in a bubble here. Despite our city's long history of imagining us fixed in tie-dyed amber, this is no progressive paradise where the rest of the state's lunacy won't tread. The open carry movement has already brandished AK-47 rifles within spitting distance of the UT campus, in the most recent instance of public protest. (Protesting what exactly? Is this right to wear guns as hip-loud as a fanny pack not in fact going into law?) Open carry may feel like a freight train, but the tracks have been laid for a long while.

My parents live in Georgetown – a lovely community that voted heavily Republican in the last presidential election. Is it fair to equate "Republican" with "totally cool with waving guns around at the mall and the local Cinemark"? Maybe not, but if there's a divide in the Texas Republican Party over the issue, the nays are about as loud as a stage whisper. And if being a Republican means being in support of the politicians who made open carry law the law of our land – and that, it follows, means being totally cool with waving guns around at the mall, and the local Cinemark, and the seafood place my parents frequent every Sunday night, where the waitress already knows their order before they sit down – then it makes sense that my Mom and Pop are petrified. When I join them for dinner at that seafood joint, the conversation too often has drifted to the places they dream about moving to. Safer harbors where they know the next booth over won't be packing heat.

I admit – their exit plans have reminded me of liberals' threat to move to Canada if Dubya won the presidency back in 2000. Of the presumably few who actually made good on the promise, I've genuinely wondered: How'd that work out? Is the poutine as good as they say? Is there still room for the rest of us?

That's a joke. Kind of. It's not actually funny at all that two people who've spent the majority of their lives as law-abiding citizens of Texas, who pay their taxes and, in my mom's case, paid a lot more as a career public school teacher, feel like there's no longer a safe place for them in this state. They're not the only ones, not by a long shot. Pause to reflect: Have you really thought about what it means to be shopping for cold cuts at the grocery store and the customer next to you has a visible weapon on their body? To send your child to freshman orientation knowing her roommate quite possibly packed a gun along with her PJs? And then once that's sunk in, you've got to wonder – is this actually the Republican leadership's endgame? To make our state so unlivable – nice head start gutting women's health care access, guys! – to send all their detractors scattering to the four winds, looking for somewhere they're statistically less likely to be shot while enjoying their shrimp scampi?

This is sounding cynical. That wasn't my intent. OK, there was that crack about "content provider," but I still file "journalist" on my W-2 form every year with a flush of pride.

That's pride in what this paper does, together, every damn week. Because the people who put out this paper believe powerfully – religiously, even – in the work we do reporting the news, from open carry to marriage equality to the latest club opening, and from a progressive point of view. The work we do reflects the community and responds to it. And that includes everyone from our investigative reporters and the front desk receptionist who fields so many calls from crazies to the office staff who makes salad on free-lunch Wednesdays and the ad reps who pound the pavement to remind community businesses who we are, what we've done, and what we still do every, yes, damn week. Of the last – that's especially hard work. Print media is in a tailspin, and the Chronicle is not immune from an industry-wide collapse. Think about that the next time you pick up a Chronicle just to pack a moving box.

Did that sound aggressive? I didn't mean to. (Nahhhh, maybe I did. Which isn't to say the Chronicle hasn't cushioned my every move across town.) It's hard not to turn to truculence. Venerable alt-weeklies all over the nation are shuttering. A lot of days, it feels like we're at war. But I look around, and what magnificent comrades-in-arms I find in these trenches.

My boss Louis Black has in this space paid tribute to a lot of people who made this paper what it is today. I'd like to pay tribute to the ones who do that work now. There are the lifers who built our reputation and also serve as our institutional memory, remind us of that story we ran that time back then – we should dig that up, maybe the source still wants to talk? And then there's this vibrant new guard, the ones who make sure we're not just a record of what once was, but what is now, and what is next. Every week they all get together in a room to talk about the next week's issue and make one another laugh. Then they go back to their desks, and they get back to work. They get back to the fight. I'm so proud to be one of them.

Louis Black's "Page Two" will return next week.

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