Monday, January 4, 2016

With ‘open carry,’ gun lobby gets what it wants: more fear

When I was 10 I had a yo-yo. It was blue with marbled streaks of silver. At school we weren't supposed to have yo-yos. But what's the point of a yo-yo if one can't show it off?

So I empathized with those who came to the Texas Capitol on New Year's Day with fancy toys openly displayed on their hips and shoulders, from AR15s to the latest from the minds of Glock. Joyous they were. The fourth-graders had finally taken over.

Pursuant to a newborn law, Texas had just joined the "open carry" movement.

After their Capitol demonstration, a bunch of the open-carriers convened at a nearby Subway. This meant other customers stood inches away in line from all that firepower. It must have made them feel safe. Would you like chips with that?

Well, of course it didn't make those customers feel safe. It made them feel ill, and just before lunch.

No clear rationale exists for open carry. Having a concealed weapon, as the law already allowed, is and was sufficient to meet the supposed safety needs of those possessing deadly implements.

The reason we weren't allowed to have yo-yos at school was one part distraction and one part peril – the fact that occasionally someone knocked out a tooth doing an Around the World.

The problem with open carry is a lot more than the distraction. It's about safety. That's why police organizations have been so critical of this development now employed in any state where the gun lobby has sufficient sway.

Colorado is one of them, although Denver went to court successfully to preserve its right to prohibit open-carry. Its legal battle proved fortuitous in view of recent events in Colorado Springs.

A woman there called police to report a man walking in the street holding a rifle. The dispatcher told her that based on open-carry law, that wasn't illegal. The woman called back a few seconds later screaming. The man had shot three people dead.

The problem is obvious. People cannot know if someone has ill intent when openly packing heat. This would apply to an emissary from ISIS just as with someone from the Methodist Men's Club.

Armed civilians are not police. Consider that incident in Waco recently -- no, not the one when bullets flew and blood flowed at a biker-gang clash. Consider what happened in a Waco-area Walmart parking lot when a woman fired upon a man who snatched another's purse. She missed. Bystanders tackled the thief.

The woman is immensely lucky that her shot hit no one. Instead of being indicted on a deadly conduct charge as she was in December, she could have been charged with the death of one of those heroic bystanders with her vigilantism.

It's not illegal to be an idiot in any state, but it can be fatal nonetheless.

This brings up the point that bothers most of us who look at the open-carry moment with disdain. The people most likely to exhibit their arms are those most of us least want openly armed.

The objective of policing is to keep the peace. Open-carry laws make that job harder. Nonetheless, I have to quibble with Kevin Laurence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association in his words of warning regarding the new law, with police uncertain how to enforce it. (For instance, should police request a gun permit of someone openly displaying his firearm?)

Said Laurence, "The biggest emotion going on out there is confusion."

No, the biggest emotion, wrought by policy that compromises public safety to placate special interests, will be fear.

          Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

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