Fear Detectors


For more than 120 years, the Texas Capitol has been free and open to the public: no locked doors, no restrictions or guarded entryways, no metal detectors or X-ray machines. (After 9/11, detectors were installed but soon removed.) Citizens could open any of the building’s four main doors and walk right in without getting screened, patted down, or queried.

That changed on the afternoon of Jan. 20, when 24-year-old Fausto Cardenas wandered into the Capitol. He entered a Senate office, where his odd behavior aroused suspicion, and he was asked to leave. He walked back outside, took out a handgun and fired several shots into the air. State troopers quickly swarmed him. No one was injured, and Cardenas was hauled off to face felony charges.

The incident, while scary, was minor. But lawmakers called for increased security.

On April 13, the State Preservation Board—a panel of elected officials and one public member that oversees the Capitol—voted to install metal detectors and X-ray machines. Under the plan, the east and west entrances to the Capitol will be closed to the public. Tour groups will be screened through the south entrance, and everyone else will have to pass through security at the north doors. The lines to get in—especially on the busiest days of legislative sessions—will be daunting.

Only one board member voted against the proposal: Gov. Rick Perry. “I’m always up for looking at new ways to protect our citizens, but the last thing I want is for the Texas Capitol to turn into DFW Airport,” Perry told the Houston Chronicle back in January, two days after the shooting.

We don’t often find ourselves in agreement with the governor. But in this case, he couldn’t be more right.

It’s important to remember that anyone with a concealed-handgun permit is allowed, under Texas law, to carry a gun inside the Capitol. Once inside, people with permits will be handed back their guns. There are numerous public buildings—like courthouses and police stations—that need metal detectors and security screening. At the Capitol—already adequately protected by security cameras and state troopers—the screening will be mostly for show.

Too often in recent years, Americans have enacted pointless measures to give ourselves a false sense of security—from taking our shoes off at airport checkpoints to allowing the National Security Administration to wiretap without a warrant.

This plan is one more concession to fear. It makes the Texas Capitol less of a people’s building.