Groups rally in response to open carry
Central Texas Gun Works was closed on New Year's Day, as were most businesses. The shop's owner, Michael Cargill, said he had to close – not for lack of shoppers due to the new open carry law that went into effect Jan. 1, but because of them.
"I had to give my employees a break," he said. "We just had to take some time off. We have never been this busy before."
Neither has former City Council candidate Ed Scruggs, who worked two years ago on an ultimately failed proposal to ban gun shows from public facilities. His social media hasn't ever blown up like this, even during the 2014 10-1 campaign when he lost a tight race for the District 8 seat to Ellen Troxclair. Working with public safety nonprofit Texas Gun Sense, Scruggs has been cold-calling businesses – from the local pet store to Target – to find out whether they're allowing open carry in their stores or opting out.
While gun enthusiasts had the day marked on their calenders way in advance, many local businesses found themselves in the center of a firestorm once the law went into effect. As Cargill gave his staff, who had been working in a madhouse since Thanksgiving, a breather over the holiday weekend, some businesses were just beginning to figure out the new law and its consequences.
"Every day now, I'm talking to the majority of businesses that still, their staff doesn't know what the law says. Management in the store doesn't really know; they've just kind of heard rumors," said Scruggs. "It's amazing. And my opinion is the law was designed that way for a reason. The law was written the way it is to confuse people. It accomplished its goal there, but volunteers are working overtime, and doing a great job educating people."
Some businesses, like Burnet Road's Q Toys, ordered signs in advance of Jan. 1, so there would be no gap in protection. South by Southwest was among those stuck without permanent signage due to a backlog at StateofTexasCHL.com, one company that makes the signs. Aluminum signs cost roughly $60, and there's currently a four- to five-day delivery wait.
Activists at the Open Carry Texas rally on the Capitol grounds Jan. 1 said any business that refused to allow open carry would lose their patronage. There are more than enough options after the new rules, said Veronica Reynaga, wife of an OCT Houston administrator. Cargill flatly said of businesses opting out: "We don't care."
Scruggs and other gun-control activists continue to appeal directly to private businesses. Where they can't change minds, they've decided to stop going. Scruggs admits not going to Target – which has a corporate policy against guns in stores, but has not posted 30.06 or 30.07 signs in its windows – will be hard on his family.
"I just think it's important to draw a line, [and] say this has gone this far, and we as a group of people are saying this is far enough," said Scruggs. "The law is giving us the option of not having to deal with the Legislature, but going directly to business. Appealing to them and to their sense of common decency."
Campus carry, which passed with open carry in the last legislative session, goes into effect on Aug. 1. Whether it's a pointed reference to the 50th anniversary of the UT Tower shooting in 1966, or just a sad coincidence, the UT community will have to start the fall semester under that shadow. Parents like Cristina Adams of Gun Free UT struggle with the decision to continue to allow their children to attend. If she could persuade her freshman to transfer into a private school or one out of state, she would. As for her high school junior – Texas public universities have been crossed off the list.
"I am seriously pissed off," said Adams. "I am sick of this. And I am a mother. Do not piss off a mom. And you do not piss off a Texas mom. Enough is enough."
At austinchronicle.com/gun-free-zone, you can see a list of businesses opting out of open carry, or download PDFs to print your own 30.06 and 30.07 signs.