Texas, one of the most conservative states in the union and a leader in gun “open carry,” is finally getting nervous about their resident gun nuts. It should. The Texas senate may not pass a law allowing open carry in public without a gun permit, and Kory Watkins of Open Carry Tarrant County gave a rant on his Facebook page that should disturb legislators—maybe even make them understand the problems of gun “enthusiasm.” Watkins wrote:
“I don’t think they want to mess with us too much longer. They better start giving us our rights or this peaceful non-cooperation stuff is gonna be gamed up. We’re going to step it up a notch. I think here in Texas we’re tired of jacking around with people in suits who think that they can take away freedoms in the name of safety … We should be demanding [Texas legislators] give us our rights back, or it’s punishable by death. Treason. You understand how serious this is, Texas? We need to start sticking more than foots in doors. This is treason against the American people. You don’t sell my rights back to me? You’re going to find trouble.”
Law enforcement officials, however, are supporting legislators. State Sen. Joan Huffman talked about “concerns from law enforcement and constituents that allowing unlicensed open carry [of handguns] ‘could create some chaos in an ordered society.'” A recent Texas Police Chiefs Association survey distributed to over 800 police chiefs reported that almost 75 percent of the respondents oppose open carry of a handgun. Another 90 percent said that a license should be required for open carry, and 71 percent said that holsters should have retention ratings to help secure the gun.
The reason for these concerns is the dangerous and aggressive behavior of people carrying long guns in public because they confront and harass police. After Watkins and other pro-gun activists refused to leave the office of Texas State Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D-74th), the legislator and his family received so many death threats that state law enforcement officers are assigned to guard him. Legislators’ office now may have panic buttons to protect them and their staff.
Even Republicans are beginning to understand the danger of unrestricted gun ownership. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that he’s “not necessarily all that fond of this open carry concept” and added that those who carry guns in public should be “appropriately backgrounded, appropriately vetted, appropriately trained.” Former Texas Land Commissioner/State Sen. Jerry Patterson, sponsor of the state’s concealed-handgun law in 1995, said that open-carry legislation “has been pushed off the rails by the nut jobs.” And State Sen. Charles Perry pointed out to The Chad Hasty Show that “some of the folks … that are coming in with intimidating tactics have issues in their background that they can’t get a CHL [concealed-handgun license]. So there’s always more than one agenda that’s apparent.”
The most bizarre gun bill in Texas would allow teachers to kill their students. Teachers are already permitted to carry guns in their classrooms, but H.B. 868 would authorize instructors to use “force or deadly force on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event in defense of the educator’s person or in defense of students of the school that employs the educator.” Instructors would also have the right to use deadly force “in defense of property of the school that employs the educator.” Moreover, civil immunity would be granted to those who use deadly force, meaning they would not be liable for the injury or death of student. Black and Latino students already face much greater rates of discipline than white students; this bill could permit teachers to kill them.
In Washington state, a gun group is planning a gun show in defiance of the new state law for background checks. Dubbed the Arms Expo, it is scheduled for the third weekend of June in the Yakima area. Advertising promises “no background checks, no paperwork, no infringement.” Organizer Sam Wilson said that they would be breaking the law, but he predicted that law enforcement wouldn’t intervene.
States that have loosened their gun laws are finding them expensive. Idaho’s new law to allow guns on college campuses will cost schools $3.7 million for the year. With no additional state funding, that’s money taken from the educational process.
Although extremists think that guns will make them safer, studies have shown this argument is false. A re-enactment of the recent Charlie Hebdo shooting showed that no “armed civilian” was able to take out both shooters, and the only person who didn’t “die” was the one who ran away. Even trained police officers in New York City hit the intended target 18 percent of the time. Yet the majority of people in the U.S. think that a gun in the house makes them safer. Studies show that a gun in the house is more likely to kill the owner or a loved one than to kill a stranger in self-defense, and the annual per capita risk of death during a home invasion is 0.0000002 percent.
Owning a gun, holding one, or even just seeing one has a significant effect on perceptions and behavior. Studies for almost 50 years have examined the “weapons effect,” in which the presence of a gun or a picture of one can stimulate aggressive behavior. A 2006 study found that men exposed to firearms before an experiment had higher levels of testosterone and were three times more likely to behave aggressively than those who weren’t exposed to a gun.
In 2009, the University of Pennsylvania found that people with guns were 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those without guns. One conclusion was that “a gun may falsely empower its possessor to overreact.” Evidence supports this. In a 2012 study, people had either a replica of a gun or something like a ball and asked to identify objects that other people held. The participants holding guns were more likely to guess that others had guns and more likely to “engage in threat-induced behavior” like raising a gun to shoot.
Brains react to guns in almost the same way as to spiders and snakes by capturing the attention. People identify threats to safety in order to avoid them. The brain immediately responds, which is why people instantly see a gun among other objects. The automatic response often results in 911 calls when people see gun owners openly carrying their firearms. Displaying guns doesn’t stop crime because brains see them as threats. People who become de-sensitized to guns are in even more danger because they cannot perceive them as dangerous threats.
States with the weakest gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the United States. The reverse is true as shown by this chart. Every 1 percent increase in gun ownership is correlated with a 1.1 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate and a .07 percent increase in total homicide rate. With the absence of guns, criminals do not switch to another weapon for homicide. Gun ownership doubles the risk of homicide and triples the risk of suicide, and a gun in the home is far more likely to be used to threaten a family member or intimate partner than to be used in self-defense. In Missouri, annual murder rates increased by 16 percent after the state’s 2007 repeal of its permit-to-purchase handgun licensing law.
People who threaten legislators with death if they vote the wrong way and collectively flaunt actions against the law are domestic terrorists. These are acts of intimidation and should be treated like terrorism. People who threaten violence if they don’t get their own way are capable of committing bloodshed as shown by the Bundy standoff in Nevada and the ensuing murders of two police officers in a pizzeria. One member of Open Carry Texas/Open Carry Tarrant County is awaiting trial for killing her estranged husband and his 20-year-old daughter.
The same political party that fights for states’ rights wants to trump these with a bill to allow carrying concealed guns across state lines without permits from those states. Chief sponsor in the senate is Texas Republican John Cornyn. Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said that “law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise this fundamental right while traveling across state lines.” No mention from the NRA that governments can’t know whether the carriers are “law-abiding.” The House will most likely pass the bill, and the senate has a better chance of getting past the 60-vote filibuster level than in 2013. Cornyn compared the process to that of a driver’s license. It would be good if gun licenses would be comparable to driver’s licenses.