Don't go off half-cocked on 'open-carry' law for guns


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:37 AM

The push for a new "open carry" law in Texas officially launches today. Brace yourself for a gunfight, coming today to a radio station near you in a peppy "We don't hide our colors, do we?" ad campaign.

It would be heresy - on both sides of this contentious debate - to suggest that allowing duly licensed handgun owners in the Lone Star State to openly display their sidearms probably wouldn't make an appreciable difference in life as we now know it.

People won't be much more likely than they already are to shoot each other over 11 items in the 10-or-less supermarket express line, as those who favor gun limitations may be relied upon to predict.

On the other hand, we're not going to make crime evaporate by visibly packing heat, as the gun lobbies so wishfully expect. They love to talk about the deterrent effect of guns-for-the-good-guys, but if criminals were really that risk-averse, they'd be in a different line of work.

Since my immediate family includes a fair number of responsible and well-trained gun owners, I don't harbor a particular dread at the very idea of firearms.

And statistics suggest that Texas' decade-old law allowing residents to carry concealed weapons did not lead to mayhem. Department of Public Safety records of conviction rates for handgun license holders show that in 2006 - the last available accounting year - legal gun owners were accountable for barely two-tenths of a percent of all felony convictions.

Moreover, Texas is one of the few states that don't allow legal gun owners to carry them openly. Some states require people with guns to carry them where everybody can see them.

So when you get right down to it, as a matter of safety and practicality, open-carry probably isn't a dramatic departure from what Texas law already permits.

But debates over American gun ownership are as much - maybe more - about emotion and politics as they are about safety and practicality.

In our culture, a gun makes a political statement that a fire extinguisher or a pointed stick does not - and I don't know if I want to sit down to eat pancakes or board a public bus surrounded by people with that particular statement openly displayed on their belts.

Ian McCarthy, the Central Texas man who started an online petition last year to push for an open-carry law, told a public radio station in August: "It's kind of sad that people are so afraid of guns."

Why? People ought to have a little healthy fear of guns - they can kill you!

I don't think the cops ought to be able to kick the door down and take them away from you.

But I don't think they ought to be viewed as a standard piece of equipment, a handy tool like nail clippers to tuck in everybody's Christmas stocking, either.

And, frankly, the idea that a gun is like those little fold-up pliers you might need at a tailgate party or a picnic seems creepy and paranoid.

It is understandable that someone who has endured a crime that a gun might have deterred may feel strongly on this issue. Former state Rep. Suzanna Hupp, who witnessed her parents' murder by a deranged gunman in a Killeen cafeteria, is a strong proponent of open-carry laws.

It's the people who obsess over, and even eagerly anticipate these situations, who give pause. Most of us, thank God, will never face such a situation. Most of us, thank God, will never experience a life-or-death need for a gun.

So choosing to own one, to carry it around, to display it openly (should the law allow) are not decisions to be taken lightly.

It's not about "standing up to criminals" or not "hiding our colors."

It's about using our heads.