Dozens of gun rights activists gathered in front of the Capitol Monday morning to voice their support for a bill that would end Texas’ 144-year ban on the open carry of handguns.
If passed, House Bill 195 by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) would allow gun-owners to carry their handguns in plain sight, and would also eliminate the requirement that a person obtain a concealed handgun license.
Stickland told demonstrators at the event organized by Open Carry Texas that he was “sick and tired of begging for permission” to exercise his Second Amendment rights.
“Could you imagine some of the outrage by the liberals and other people in this state, if we applied the same principles to the First Amendment that they say are reasonable for the Second Amendment?” Stickland said. “Could you imagine what a liberal would say to you if you told them you have to take a test, pass a test, take a class and pay a fee to exercise your First Amendment rights? It’s absolutely ludicrous.”
Texas is one of six states that doesn’t allow open carry of handguns, although it does permit the open carry of long-guns and antique handguns made before 1899. Thirty-one states currently allow open carry without a permit and 13 require a permit.
Open Carry members Colt and Kathryn Szczygiel moved to Texas from Connecticut last year, to flee the increasingly restrictive gun laws that state has passed since the Sandy Hook massacre. Colt Szczygiel said he was “extremely surprised” to learn that open carry of handguns was illegal in Texas, while it’s still legal in Connecticut. He says a common argument against open carry is that it will turn Texas into “the Wild West.”
“Look at us,” Kathryn Szczygiel said, pointing to her pregnant belly, “we’re not the Wild West.”
Activists and speakers also argued that open carry is simply more comfortable and practical than concealed carry. After a bit of joking about nudists—”They need Open Carry more than anyone!”—Kathie Glass, a Libertarian candidate in Texas’ 2014 gubernatorial race, got down to business and talked to the audience about her handbag. Glass, who carried a can of hairspray in an empty gun holster, wondered how she was supposed to find her handgun if she had to keep it in her “U-Haul purse.”
“What if it’s not with me when I need it?” she asked.
Sterling Lands, a bishop with Family Life International Fellowship in Austin and the lone black face in the crowd of demonstrators, had a reason for supporting open carry that wasn’t articulated by the speakers. He believes that restrictive gun laws in Texas were created as a response to the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, and that current gun laws are discriminatory.
“The idea was to make certain that blacks were never able to rise up in any type of an armed revolt,” Lands said.
He supports HB 195, because he worries that current regulations discriminate against those who cannot afford the $140 concealed handgun license, and those who aren’t able to complete the written test required to obtain the license.
Stickland and Open Carry members support “constitutional carry,” asserting that most regulations on gun ownership are unconstitutional.
“The Second Amendment doesn’t come from a government institution, a bureaucracy or a politician,” Stickland said. “It comes from God almighty.”
According to CJ Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas, this hasn’t been an effective argument. He advised activists who planned to speak to their representatives after the rally not to “bring up the constitutional right thing” when speaking with representatives.
“If you say ‘constitution’ it will be like the wicked witch when you pour water on her: ‘I’m melting, melting,’” Grisham said. “You have to talk to them in terms that they understand.”
Grisham encouraged activists to stress that open carry can deter crime. “An armed society is a polite society,” he said, echoing a common NRA refrain.
Open carry supporters haven’t always followed their own advice. On Jan. 13, Open Carry Tarrant County stormed the office of Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D-Eagle Pass), calling Nevarez a “tyrant to the constitution.” The confrontation prompted lawmakers to pass a rule allowing the installation of panic buttons in Capitol offices.
Grisham was keen to prevent such an embarrassing display from occurring again. Attendees were asked on the “Carry to the Capitol” event page to look “as professional as possible,” and Grisham encouraged demonstrators to be respectful and polite, but “still firm.”
“Show them that we’re a very professional organization and we’re serious and committed to trying to get this legislation passed,” Grisham said.
Stickland is also committed to getting constitutional carry legislation passed, promising that he will offer an amendment on any gun-related bill, “no matter what my colleagues say.”
“We will force the vote,” Stickland said. “And if they have the gall to vote against this bill then we will replace them in the next primary.”