Texans can carry handguns openly

A handgun being openly carried in a hip holster in an American public eatery. More than 40 US states allow some form of open carry of firearms, with a pro-gun activist (far left) marching in support of such open-carry displays at a rally in Austin, T
A handgun being openly carried in a hip holster in an American public eatery. More than 40 US states allow some form of open carry of firearms, with a pro-gun activist (above) marching in support of such open-carry displays at a rally in Austin, Texas last month.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A handgun being openly carried in a hip holster in an American public eatery. More than 40 US states allow some form of open carry of firearms, with a pro-gun activist (far left) marching in support of such open-carry displays at a rally in Austin, T
A handgun (above) being openly carried in a hip holster in an American public eatery. More than 40 US states allow some form of open carry of firearms, with a pro-gun activist marching in support of such open-carry displays at a rally in Austin, Texas last month.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New open-carry law sets off long-simmering debate over limits of Texas gun culture

HOUSTON • Texas is so gun-friendly that it is easier to get into the Capitol in Austin with a firearm than without one - licensed, gun-carrying lawmakers and members of the public have their own no-wait security lane, and the unarmed masses have to stand in line and slog through the metal detectors.

But as of yesterday, gun rights in Texas have expanded even more, as a new law took effect that allows certain Texans to wear their handguns in holsters on their hips - or in shoulder holsters, Dirty Harry-style - openly displaying the fact that they are armed as they work, shop, dine and go about their day.

The so-called open-carry law has set off a long-simmering debate over the limits of the Texas gun culture and has given gun rights advocates a hard-fought victory after they pushed for the expansion for years.

Members of the pro-gun group Open Carry Texas were due to gather at noon yesterday at the Capitol for a gun-on-their-hips celebration before walking down Congress Avenue. Other groups plan to display their weaponry at events in Houston, Dallas and other cities.

"I think most people can expect Friday to be just like Thursday," said retired army sergeant C.J. Grisham, 41, who formed Open Carry Texas in 2013. He planned to carry two semi-automatic pistols at the Capitol rally, and gave his 13-year-old daughter a pink .22-calibre rifle for her 12th birthday. "I think everybody is overreacting."

Open-carry supporters say more public weapons will help deter would-be criminals. Opponents say police officers will have a hard time separating the good guys from the bad, and there is no evidence that open-carry states are safer.

More than 40 states allow some form of open carry of firearms. But Texas will become the most populous open-carry state, with three of the nation's 10 largest cities, and the public nature of the debate and vote has produced measures of elation, anxiety and confusion over the new law.

The mixed emotions have prompted law enforcement agencies to hold public meetings and release videos to help put residents at ease, particularly in the wake of high-profile mass shootings.

Open-carry supporters say more public weapons will help deter would-be criminals. Opponents say police officers will have a hard time separating the good guys from the bad, and there is no evidence that open-carry states are safer.

The change directly affects only a small fraction of Texans - 925,000 men and women with active state-issued licences to carry a concealed firearm, close to 4 per cent of the state's 27.4 million residents.

Only those with a concealed-handgun permit are allowed to open carry, and all of them must submit their fingerprints and pass a criminal background check before being granted a licence. Texans do not need a state licence to buy a handgun but must meet the federal qualifications.

Mr Tim Vasquez, the chief of police in the West Texas city of San Angelo and president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said police officials were bracing themselves for "a huge learning curve" as they begin enforcing the law.

"Most of us do support concealed, but we also understand that open carry creates a whole new set of problems," Mr Vasquez said. "If our officers see someone with an open carry, they do have the ability to stop and identify whether that person is permitted or not."

Gun rights will advance again in August, when students and faculty members at Texas universities will be allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus, although openly carrying them is prohibited.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Texans can carry handguns openly'. Print Edition | Subscribe