By Jacob Santillan
Illustration by Blake Jones
The biennial Texas Legislative sessions are almost never cause for celebration for those of us on the political left. Blatant hypocrisy threatens ground gained in the battle against fracking, reproductive rights are under attack, and hard-won LGBT protections, won through bitter struggle in Houston, may be undone in Austin.
However, two firearms bills which would permit open carry and concealed carry on public universities sail easily through the Legislature, and will likely to be approved, generating much anxiety by the usual suspects. Before I to get into that, first a bit of up-front disclosure.
I am a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) holder and I own multiple firearms (with a particular fondness for Glocks and Eastern Bloc weaponry). I didn’t grow up around firearms, but I took to them quite naturally. I won’t break any marksmanship records but I can hold my own with a firearm. My military service only helped to increase my comfort around them because I’m a stickler for safety procedures (the military is all about firearms safety). I’m also one of the apparently rare and exotic political animals – I am a leftist in favor of gun rights.
I’m not the only leftist who feels this way; there’s actually a Facebook group which calls itself the “Socialist Rifle Association,” their stated mission being “to arm and train the working class for self-defense.” Similar leftist gun rights groups exist, but the caricature of the right-wing “gun nut” persists, at times for good reason. You know the type — the working-class conservative who votes against their own economic interests; someone who says disobliging things about racial minorities and LGBT folks, speaking with an accent that turns “hello” into a five syllable word, and “government” into a contraction and curse simultaneously. The most extreme pro-gun elements however, tend to alienate people otherwise sympathetic to gun rights advocacy be they on the left or right.
But among the golden throng of “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flags in the gun rights sector of the political landscape, splotches of communist/socialist red and anarchist black can be found. There are even intricately elaborated Marxist cases in favor of gun rights, and people I’ve come to think of as “non-traditional” gun rights advocates are too frequently overlooked in my opinion.
Politics aside, the usual liberal hand-wringing and scaremongering that suggests people are going to be magically induced to shoot random strangers at the stroke of Governor Abbott’s pen is in full force, and in my opinion, is as unfounded as it’s myopic. For one, in the 20 year history of concealed carry in Texas, the Texas Department of Public Safety keeps on file the conviction rates for concealed handgun license holders. Of all crimes listed, CHL holders overwhelmingly account for less than one percent of criminal convictions. We aren’t exactly a wild-eyed lawless bunch.
it’s also important to note that open carry and concealed campus carry won’t mean a complete free-for-all. Those bills would only allow those already licensed to carry concealed to do so. State law currently requires applicants to have their fingerprints on file, training that covers the laws governing weapons and the use of deadly force, handgun proficiency and safety, nonviolent dispute resolution, and proper storage practices which, if followed properly, eliminate the possibility of accidental injury to a child. State law also allows for what’s called “30.06 signage,” whereby a property owner or a place of business can legally prohibit a CHL holder from carrying on their premises. Violators can be arrested at risk of their CHL. Firearms are still not permitted in bars, nor college campuses, though the campus carry bill aims to expand concealed carry to public universities, and some already carry handguns on campus, illegally, with grim memories of the Virginia Tech shootings.
“I can tell you as a strong Second Amendment supporter — somebody who runs in circles with people who frequently shoot, carry weapons, who have permits — my impression is that most of the people in Texas who have a permit do not carry a weapon now,” says military fiction author Chris Hernandez, also a 20 year veteran of Texas law enforcement.
“My impression is that there will be negligible impact with this law. Most people who aren’t carrying a weapon now, even though they have a permit, aren’t going to start carrying openly because tactically, you’re much better off carrying concealed. You will have small number of people who will open carry to make a point, just like the Open Carry Tarrant County morons up in Dallas/Fort Worth, walking into Chipotle with AKs, openly carry just to make a point. Those people will eventually get tired of the novelty.”
I rarely carry concealed myself, much less openly, except on the rural properties of close personal friends. That’s mostly as a result of my personal choice of weapon, which doesn’t lend well to comfortable inside-the-waistband concealed carry. Fashion concerns aside, I also have no illusions of fooling anyone by carrying concealed in a fanny pack. I’m more than aware of the increased responsibility of carrying concealed at all, to say nothing of carrying openly, and if anything, I’d feel much more exposed carrying openly, and I suspect I’m not alone.
“You find out carrying a pistol isn’t a magic wand.” Hernandez says. “It actually generates a huge number of personal responsibilities. It puts you in additional danger if you do not exercise common sense precautions against being disarmed, if you don’t exercise situational awareness, or if you’re too cheap to afford a security holster. There are a lot of things that can go wrong because you’re carrying a weapon.”
My personal opposition to open carry is merely tactical, as I suspect will be the same for other CHL holders. For the occasional concealed carry citizen such as myself, the chief advantage of open carry legislation is that it lifts the worry that accidental exposure of a concealed handgun could lead to arrest and a costly legal battle — that’s it.
Whether you or I share common cause with those on the left or right when it comes to gun rights, or any other issue, it’s important to remember that no issue is truly “owned” by the left or right. As long as diversity reigns, and as long as we can find common cause, calm down about open carry and campus carry — it’s going to be okay.
I’ll see you at the range.