Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Texas' 'Open Carry' Law - As Dangerous As It Is Dumb

Imagine looking out your window one afternoon and seeing a guy lumbering down the sidewalk, rifle in hand, and kids playing barely 50 yards ahead. What do you do? Dismiss it as 'no worry' or call 911? In the days before gun laws became loose no one judged normal would be carrying a rifle down a sidewalk out in the open. And you'd call the cops in a heartbeat. Now, bad guys as well as good can carry weapons in the open in some states, so you can't tell who's who.

In Colorado Springs back in October - according to audio recordings released by the Colorado Springs Police Dept., a woman called in to report a man walking with a rifle. The dispatcher then informed the woman she needn't worry since Colorado is an "open carry" state- meaning anyone, terrorist, nut, or good guy can be walking along carrying a weapon.  The dispatcher then designated the call as one that didn't involve an 'imminent threat'.

Alas, the dispatcher was wrong, dead wrong. Shortly afterward the rifle carrier shot and killed three people before dying in a shootout with the police. One of those shot was a young guy just going out on his bike on a Saturday morning. The rifle carrier simply took aim as the bicyclist rode by and blew his head off.

Now, another right wing -leaning state with a majority Republican legislature has passed its own open carry law to much consternation, according to a WSJ article from two days ago ('Texas Tackles Open Carry', p. A3). According to the piece:

"As of October there were 922, 197 active licenses to carry concealed weapons in Texas, now a separate license won't  be required for open carry. Under the law guns will still be banned in some places including: courthouses, businesses and sporting events."

Supporters of the law, like 'Open Carry' (a TX gun group), are ecstatic because now those who like to pack large caliber heat, like .44 Magnums, "don't have to worry about how to conceal their large weapons". Hell, it will be just like the old days of Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid.

The Texas law enforcement establishment isn't exactly enthused by this new law either. Houston Police Chief, Charles McClelland - quoted in the article - asked:

"When my officers are responding to situations or disturbances where a gun is involved, how are they supposed to know who the good guy is or the bad guy is if both have guns?"

Good point! Before it was usually the bad guys with the guns so the cops arriving on the scene could easily blow them away if they didn't comply. Now, the signal is confused by "good guys" having their own guns and being able to openly display them. What's wrong with this picture? Everything! The time it takes the cops to sort out the situation could mean a lot of lives lost, since as Chief McClelland observed it could be terrorism or a mass shooting such as occurred at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic.

As he put it, there has to be "heightened concern" for a potentially dangerous combination.

Nor is Chief McClelland an oddity or exception. Many law enforcement officers worry that allowing people to openly carry firearms will put police officers at greater risk. Obviously, if guns are more easily accessible, there will be a greater probability of pulling them out in the heat of the moment - say an argument where one might normally use fists - to settle things.  In a survey in February last year before the law as passed, 75 percent of Texas police chiefs responding said they were opposed to open carry (according to the Texas Police Chiefs Association)

Meanwhile, for all the venues where guns aren't banned outright, decisions have to be made and different groups informed.  Thus, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dallas has decided to ban openly carrying citizens in its 75 North Texas churches. (Explaining the restrictions as required by state law for places of worship).

But in another case,  the First Baptist Church in Arlington will allow its congregants to come in armed. According to Senior Pastor Dennis Wiles:

"We decided it was best to allow responsible people to do this if they choose."

Fine, but how do you decide who is "responsible"? Or do you just assume they are and then rue the outcome when a supposedly ok seeming guy (like Dylan Roof) opens fire and kills nine.

Other places aren't so quick on the trigger to allow presumed "responsible" patrons to just come in. The Tex-Mex chain Gringo's with 14 restaurants  - mainly in Houston - won't allow openly carrying customers. According to Gringo's counsel Al Flores (ibid.):

"We just felt that knowing our customers, allowing someone to walk in openly carrying a weapon, it would make them feel a little uncomfortable".

How about a lot uncomfortable, to the point of serious indigestion, not knowing whether one of these fine,  upstanding citizens may suddenly turn into a raging lunatic and open fire on a midday dining  crowd. Or...he or she isn't a terrorist (maybe domestic) using open carry as a perfect foil to do a mass  murder.

Bottom line, all these open carry laws carry gun rights too damned far. This isn't the Wild West anymore and we shouldn't expect every single gun aficionado to emulate Bat Masterson,

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