Gun Bullies Lead ... Lawmakers Follow

Gun activists mob Capitol to mixed reception

Gun rights activists rally at the Capitol.
Gun rights activists rally at the Capitol. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Open carry advocates started off the 84th legislative session with a bang last Tuesday, Jan. 13; they marked the session's opening day with a rally featuring numerous people openly carrying rifles and shotguns, and a 3-D printer capable of making firearms on-site. Their efforts were in support of "Constitutional Carry" – a cause also taken up by a handful of bills filed so far.

Proponents claim that constitutional carry is what the founders intended (despite the phrase "well-regulated militia") when they drafted the Second Amendment: no restrictions whatsoever on the right to bear arms. In their view, if a person can be trusted to participate in society, that person should be trusted to carry a gun. Come and Take It Texas brought the "Ghost Gunner" to the Capitol last week in what some members defended as an illustration of the futility of current gun laws. They argue that the 3-D printer, which produces firearm components made of plastic rather than metal, makes enforcement of current gun restrictions impracticable.

However, pro-gun advocates' encounter with Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, while visiting legislators' offices overshadowed the rest of their efforts. After the lawmaker, who was called a "tyrant to the Constitution" for his opposition to open carry, finally asked his visitors from Open Carry Tarrant County to leave, he had trouble closing the door on them (and one protester repeatedly suggested that if anyone so much as "touched" him, he would retaliate). The incident prompted Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, to sponsor an amendment to House housekeeping rules that will now allow reps to install panic buttons in their offices.

Many open carry advocates were quick to distance themselves from the Tarrant County group's behavior, while other gun owners made it clear they don't support fewer restrictions on guns. Angela Turner, a member of Moms Demand Gun Sense, told the Chronicle that she grew up around guns, and currently owns hunting rifles. But, she added, "with gun ownership comes a lot of responsibility." She finds it "intimidating and irresponsible" when people walk down the street openly carrying rifles and shotguns, and is baffled by the opposition to universal background checks.

At a Jan. 15 press conference in support of HB 195, which would effectively eliminate restrictions on open carry should one maintain a license to own a gun, Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, stressed that "the time is right" for fewer restrictions on one's ability to wield a weapon. "This bill is commonsense legislation to provide greater security and safety for the families of Texas," he said. "We didn't get the government's permission to come in here and exercise our First Amendment rights, and the press didn't have to beg for permission to publish it. Texans don't get a permit to go to church. That same level of respect should be extended to the Second Amendment." He added that he is "very confident this legislation will hit the governor's desk."

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who actually authored HB 195, didn't attend the 10-minute conference, but issued a statement through his staff that likened Texas to two of the country's strictest states on gun control. "It's embarrassing that Texas currently joins gun control states like California and New York in criminalizing open carry for self-defense," he said. "I think if constitutional carry works in a wide range of states from Wyoming, Mon­tana, Arizona, Arkansas, and Vermont, it can clearly work in Texas."

Asked what supporters of the bill deduced from demonstrators' actions outside of the Capitol on Tuesday, Huffines provided a non-responsive response: "The best approach is a civil, respectful, peaceful discourse. That's the approach I'm going to take to get this legislation done."

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84th Legislature 2015, gun legislation, Constitutional Carry, Come and Take It Texas, Moms for Gun Sense, Don Huffines, Jonathan Stickland

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