Texas embraces handgun 'open-carry': What took 'em so long?

The state of high plains drifters and urban cowboys has long been skeptical about open-carry of handguns, making the Long Star State more like New York than Arizona when it comes to guns out in the open. That’s now changing.

The Dallas Morning News/Michael Ainsworth/AP
Instructor Mike Campbell shows Dwayne Reese a gun at the Frisco Gun Club in Frisco, Texas, Friday, April 17, 2014.

Despite its reputation as a conservative bulwark, Texas has long acted more like California or New York when it comes to aversion to guns in public. But that’s now changing, as Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has indicated he’ll sign a bill that’ll make Texas the largest US state to allow open carry of handguns in public.

Mr. Abbott’s expected signature will make Texas the 45th  state to allow open-carry of handguns in public spaces, a fact that polls suggest is indicative of a deeply-held suspicion of handguns and gun-carriers in the Lone Star Republic.

Yet a years-long push by tea party lawmakers and gun rights advocates has steadily worn down the resistance at the Austin statehouse, yielding to a contentious 96-35 vote on Friday, just a month after the Texas Senate passed a similar open carry bill.

Indeed, lawmakers in some ways spoke up on behalf of a minority of Texas residents who want to see an increase in open-carry. Only one in three Texans want to see open-carry without a permit, and only 45 percent are okay with open-carry with a permit – which is what the legislature finally adopted. In a recent University of Texas survey, only one in 10 Texans wanted to see open carry without a permit, and 25 percent said no one should carry handguns openly in public.

What’s more, according to a recent Texas Policy Project poll, even a majority of Republicans wanted to see gun laws in Texas unchanged, with 55 percent of tea party respondents saying there was no need to add more gun rights in the state.

To be sure, Texas has always allowed residents to carry long runs, like rifles and shotguns, in the open, a nod to its pioneer past and living ranch legacy.

But residents have been more suspicious about carrying handguns in public, in part owing to the state’s large and dense urban areas – think Houston and Dallas – where police and residents fret that more guns in public will equal more violence and problems for law enforcement.

“It’s going to be difficult for the beat cop to know who should have a gun, who shouldn’t have a gun, and frankly there are people out there who shouldn’t own guns,” Sean Mannix, the police chief of Cedar Park, Tex., and chair of the Texas Association of Police Chiefs, told KXAN TV.

Because of its sheer size, Texas has long been seen as a prize by gun rights advocates, who have had significant successes in expanding the breadth of the Second Amendment even as America becomes increasingly more urban. Since the sun-setting of the assault rifle ban in 2004, states have steadily expanded gun and self defense rights while rebuffing federal attempts at closing gun show loopholes and expanding background checks.

Currently, about 841,000 Texans have concealed handgun licenses, or about 5 percent of eligible residents.

Democrats tried in vain to restrain those numbers with a variety of amendments, including an opt-out provision for larger urban areas. Democrat Rafael Anchia at one point asked a fellow Dallas lawmaker, Eric Johnson, whether there’s a “groundswell” in Dallas demanding open carry.

Mr. Johnson answered no, but added, “I also recognize that there may be districts around the state where there is this outcry.”

While most Democrat amendments failed, the final bill did include a compromise to include concerns from police.

While some lawmakers pushed for so-called constitutional-carry where no license is required, the legislature finally opted to require a special open-carry permit for which owners have to apply.

For gun rights advocates, the victory seemed decisive after years of inaction. Terry Holcomb, Sr., told the Wall Street Journal that the open-carry provision had never even made it out of legislative committees before this year. That it passed suggests “we are seeing historic progress in Texas,” he said.

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