In which most Texans prove smarter than their elected representatives…. (gun edition)

George W. Bush, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz made it their business to give Texas a bad name on the national stage. The current crop of Texas legislators is on track to outdo them.

The vast majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens and generally sensible sorts. Yet, although the federal government never advocated a takeover of Texas, Governor Abbott wanted the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15, the series of military exercises conducted in Texas last summer. Similarly, as a result of the panic induced by internet conspiracy theories proliferating on right wing web sites, Texans, already armed to the teeth, saw fit to get armed to the eyeballs after the election of our first black president.

Our fearless leaders get it: Texans love their guns. No doubt encouraged by the NRA, and the fact that neighboring Oklahoma had a similar law on the books, they pushed an open carry bill through the legislature. It became law on January 1. The sky did not fall, but only because most Texans refrained from toting their guns wherever they roamed. There were a few instances of guns being sighted at fast food restaurants, but so far no major incidents have occurred.

The legislature, however, did not think the law through, and it has had a few unintended consequences. As Wal-Mart sells alcohol, for instance, the friendly and mostly elderly greeters now have to (politely) request to see a gun license whenever they see someone entering their store with a firearm. The Dallas Zoo is trying to stay gun-free by arguing that it has a specific educational purpose. They do not want some yahoo shooting their giraffes in front of first-graders — who would have thought?

75% of police chiefs opposed open carry. After Democrats expressed concerns over racial profiling, the legislature tried to pass a provision that would have prevented police from stopping people just because they were openly carrying. Police officers then objected, and quite rationally so, that it can be difficult to tell the difference between a person legally carrying a gun openly and a person carrying with criminal intent. The provision was defeated, racial profiling be damned.

The most far-reaching consequence of the open carry law, though, has been that businesses have been forced to take sides, and therefore antagonize a portion of their customers. For instance, Totin’ Buffalo Bill may have to leave his sidearm in the car when he visits his favorite burger place, and I will choose to shop where I see “no open carry” signs.

If the open carry law is less than a fantastic success, why did our legislature pass it with the blessing of the governor? Because they can. Because it pleases their base. Because we have been so gerrymandered that most districts are safe for the incumbent parties. Because politicians do not care that statistics overwhelmingly show that keeping guns in the house does not make you safer but may kill your kid. They do not care that the sight of a gun alters human relations. If someone with a visible sidearm cuts in line at the supermarket, do we protest or not? If we see a person rushing towards a school at the end of class with a weapon in their belt, are they just in a hurry to pick up their kid, or are they meaning harm? What was gained, exactly, when we already had a concealed carry law that had worked well for years?

Fresh off their victory, the Republican legislature also passed a hotly contested campus law that most Texans did not care for. One of their arguments was that most students, being under the age of 21, would not be allowed to keep weapons on campus. As private colleges can choose to opt out of the law, this is another blow to public colleges and universities, which are currently fighting the legislature over which campus zones can be exempt. You will be glad to know that the National Biocontainment Lab in Galveston made the cut….



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