In a short essay published online Tuesday, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo vehemently objects to a bill making its way through the Texas legislature that would allow open carry of firearms in public, concluding that “common sense has officially died” in the state’s government.
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House Bill 910 will allow holders of registered handguns to openly carry their firearms in belt or torso holsters, and an amendment added at the last minute prohibits police from stopping openly armed individuals to ensure they are licensed. The Texas House voted on Monday 101-42 in favor of the bill, which already cleared the Texas Senate. The very same day, the Austin Police Department held a press conference in remembrance of the victims of domestic violence, marking the start of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
The bill moved forward Monday after Republicans defeated an effort by House Democrats to allow cities like Austin to enforce tighter restrictions on firearms. It now moves into the reconciliation process, and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has said he will sign the bill into law.
“If criminals, drug cartels, and extremists had a seat at the policy writing table they couldn’t have come up with [a] better Amendment,” Acevedo wrote on Tuesday morning. “By prohibiting law enforcement from stopping or detaining to check for [concealed handgun licenses], Texas is authorizing within our state lines any and all criminals to carry a firearm. My heart goes out to domestic violence victims and the victims of violent crimes in our State. Through this amendment we are facilitating the victimization of the people we are sworn to serve, protect and lead.”
He also warned that “next time” extremist groups conduct an open-carry protest at the Texas Capitol — groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Panthers, or even supporters of ISIS — police will be duty bound to stand by and watch. “[L]aw enforcement will have absolutely no authority to ensure the people who are armed as they wish……….” the chief trailed off. “[W]hy bother,” he concluded. “[C]ommon sense has officially died and writing any further would be fruitless.”
Acevedo has been vocal on the issue of gun control, previously voicing support for enhanced background checks and limits on where guns may be legally bought and sold. Despite his misgivings, Ladd Everett, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told Austin.com that the bill’s final provisions are not as troubling to them as the original proposal.
“Without a lot of the threats and protests [during the debate], it is likely this bill would have passed without any licensing or permitting requirements whatsoever,” he said. “[After the threats] you had people like Rick Perry endorsing the view that permitting gun owners is important and serves a valuable public safety purpose. They made note of that because a lot of these [protesters] have criminal records and would not be able to obtain a concealed carry license in the state of Texas.”
The state’s debate over House Bill 910 was nothing short of rocky, with even some Republican lawmakers backing away from more open-ended legislation after gun-rights advocates began issuing veiled threats. Although the open-carry legislation was supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA), gun activists originally wanted unlicensed open carry. They might have gotten just that, were it not for their “downright scary” open carry protests, to quote an NRA statement that was almost immediately retracted. Once people started showing up at Chili’s and Chipotle with machine guns, the tone of the debate changed dramatically.
“This is rare in a state like Texas, but you had Republicans coming forward and probably not thinking about it, but reacting to these threats [from activists], admitting that gun laws serve a purpose,” Ladd said. “There is a purpose to screening people who want to carry guns in public. On one hand, I don’t see a need to open carry, but I have no problem with the state of Texas determining what they feel is appropriate. The way the debate went, there were some important insights gained by politicians in Texas as to why it is important to screen people before you allow them to carry a gun down the street.”
One activist in particular — Corey Watkins, of Open Carry Tarrant County — put a chill down the spines of Texas lawmakers when he stormed into legislative offices at the Texas Capitol, accusing members of treason. He later published a screed online insisting that treason is punishable by death. “We should be demanding these people give us our rights back, or it’s punishable by DEATH. Treason,” he said in a video originally published to Facebook. “You understand how serious this is, Texas?”
Open Carry Texas did not respond to a request for comment. Update: In a telephone interview following this article’s publication, Open Carry Texas founder CJ Grisham called The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence “a bunch morons” and refused to respond to Ladd’s remarks. “They’re not worth the breath it takes to respond,” he said. “So there’s that.”
As for Acevedo’s comments, Grisham did not pull any punches. “Chief Acevedo should go back to California,” he said. “This is Texas. The fact is that allowing someone to carry a firearm is a deterrent to crime. What he would like is to disarm those very victims he’s claiming to support. These victims… If they’d have had a gun, they could have defended themselves. Chef Acevedo wants to disarm them, and that’s despicable. As for this idea that cops should be able to walk up to law-abiding citizens and demand their papers? That sounds quite similar to something that happened in the 30’s and 40’s.”
Grisham also said Open Carry Texas had nothing to do with Watkins or threats against Texas lawmakers.
While firearm advocates often cite anecdotal evidence to claim gun ownership is a deterrent to violent crime, a peer-reviewed study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2002 found no statistically significant deterrent effect across society. By comparing residential gun ownership rates, 22 years worth of police-reported crime data, and geo-coded responses to the National Crime Victimization Survey, researchers found that owning a gun can enhance self defense in some instances, but it also makes suicides and accidental shootings, particularly of children, much more likely.
Featured photo: Flickr user ann harkness, creative commons licensed.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Open Carry activist who accused Texas lawmakers of treason.