Texas' New Open-Carry Law Unpopular Among Some Gun Owners

Jan 15, 2016
Originally published on January 27, 2016 3:14 pm

Last year, there were emotional protests for and against a law that would allow Texans to walk around with pistols on their belts. It passed, and on Jan. 1, Texas became the 45th state in the union to allow the open carry of handguns.

But in an unforeseen backlash, the new law may actually hurt the cause of handgun carriers.

The open-carry crowd says now people can better protect themselves, they don't have to bother with concealing a gun and, anyway, it's already legal in 44 other states, so why not in gun-loving Texas? For Michael Cargill and Trina Spells, handgun instructors and firearms enthusiasts who both openly carry handguns, they couldn't wait to take advantage of the law.

On a recent walkabout in an Austin Wal-Mart, no one really seems to be paying attention to the guns on their hips.

"There are no issues whatsoever," Cargill says. "No one panicked. It's not a problem."

As the well-armed, African-American duo saunters out the exit doors, one shopper does a wide-eyed double-take, but he doesn't say anything. Yet even if the man had been bothered by a loaded handgun, Cargill shrugs it off.

"No, it's not about what they feel. It's not about what they think. The law says that I can conceal-carry my handgun, and now, as of Jan. 1, 2016, it says I can openly carry that handgun. It's all about personal safety," Cargill says.

Personal safety can cut both ways. Open carry is controversial among gun owners. Some say displaying a weapon in public discourages troublemakers. "An armed society is a polite society," they're fond of saying. Others say it invites trouble.

Say, for example, a bad guy walks into a convenience store where you're in line. "I would prefer concealed [carry] because I wouldn't have a target necessarily automatically painted on my back," says Sam Toups, a 25-year-old tech company worker who just got his handgun license. "Anybody with some working eyeballs can see, all right, that guy he has a gun and I need to take care of that first."

His girlfriend, Monica DeLeon, a 23-year-old student, also just got her handgun license.

"You're obviously just trying to get a rise out of someone. You're obviously just trying to make other people feel uncomfortable. And to be honest, you probably have a really small d***," DeLeon says. "I automatically think you're a stupid, low-self-esteem person because you need this big ole' truck or you need this big ol' gun to make you feel like a bigger person. I think it's silly, and I don't think it's safe."

Nearly 1 million Texans have license-to-carry permits — or about 3 percent of the state population.

But in the past few weeks, the streets of Texas have not turned into the O.K. Corral. I've been quizzing acquaintances and strangers all around central Texas, and have spotted only a few people openly displaying handguns.

Since the first of the year, some Texas businesses that formerly allowed concealed carry have now decided to ban every form of carry.

"What changed Jan. 1 was that my staff freaked out," says Michael Portman, co-owner of the Birds Barbershop chain in Austin. Before the law, he tacitly allowed concealed carry in his chain's seven shops. Now he has prohibited all guns.

"And this is not a political issue for us as a business. It's a matter of the comfort of our staff, and they're not comfortable with guns in barber chairs — open carry or concealed. As they move around with scissors and reach over them with buzzers, it just doesn't mix," he says.

One gun owner complained on a Web forum for Texas handgun license holders: "The lid is off this can of worms and it will never go back. I hope the right to walk around looking like Wyatt Earp is worth it to the open carry folks, because a lot of us are losing our right to conceal carry."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

If you are licensed to do so, you can now walk around Texas with a handgun on your belt. The state's new open carry law took effect the first of the month. The legislature passed it after emotional protests from both sides of the issue. But now that it's been in effect for a couple of weeks, NPR's John Burnett reports it's not very popular with gun owners.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: So we're walking through a Wal-Mart here in Austin. And I'm with Michael Cargill and Trina Spells, both open-carrying handguns. What kind of a gun do you have?

TRINA SPELLS: I have a .38 revolver.

MICHAEL CARGILL: And I have a 1911 Springfield.

BURNETT: And no one is really paying attention to the handguns on your hips.

CARGILL: Oh, and, oh, my goodness we're African-American.

SPELLS: (Laughter) We forgot that one small detail.

BURNETT: Cargill and Spells are both handgun instructors and firearms enthusiasts, and they couldn't wait to take advantage of the new law. The open-carry crowd says now they can better protect themselves. They don't have to bother with concealing a gun, and anyway, it was already legal in 44 other states, so why not in gun-loving Texas?

As the well-armed duo saunters out the exit doors, one shopper does a wide-eyed double-take, but he doesn't say anything. Yet even if the man had been bothered by a loaded handgun, Michael Cargill shrugs it off.

CARGILL: No, it's not about what they feel. It's not about what they think. The law says that I can conceal-carry my handgun, and now, as of January 1, 2016, it says I can openly carry that handgun. It's all about personal safety.

BURNETT: Personal safety can cut both ways. Open-carry is controversial among gun owners. Some say putting a gun on your belt discourages troublemakers. They love to say an armed society is a polite society. Others say it invites trouble. I put the question to Sam Toups and Monica DeLeon. They're 25 and 23 years old. He works at an IT company in Austin. She's a student. We're sitting in a beer garden. Sam and Monica just got their handgun licenses.

SAM TOUPS: If you are, say, in a scenario where someone comes into a convenience store...

BURNETT: A bad guy.

TOUPS: I would prefer concealed because I wouldn't have a target necessarily automatically painted on my back. Anybody with some working eyeballs can see, all right - that guy - he has a gun, and I need to take care of that first.

MONICA DELEON: You're obviously just trying to get a rise out of someone. You're obviously just trying to make other people uncomfortable. And to be honest, you probably have a really small [expletive]. I'm, like - I automatically think that you're a stupid, low self-esteem person because you need this big ol' truck or you need this big ol' gun to make you feel like a bigger person. I think it's silly, and I don't think it's safe.

BURNETT: Nearly a million Texans have license-to-carry permits or about 3 percent of the state's population. But in the past few weeks under the new law, the streets of Texas have not turned into the O.K. Corral. I've been quizzing acquaintances and strangers all around Central Texas, and they've spotted only a few people openly displaying handguns. In an unforeseen backlash, the new law may actually hurt the cause of handgun carriers. Since January 1, some Texas businesses that formally allowed concealed carry have now decided to ban every form of carry.

MICHAEL PORTMAN: What changed January 1 was that my staff freaked out.

BURNETT: Michael Portman is co-owner of the Birds Barbershop chain in Austin. Before the law, they allowed concealed carry. Now they're prohibiting all guns.

PORTMAN: And this is not a - even a political issue for us as a business. It's a matter of the comfort of our staff, and they're not comfortable with guns in barber chairs - open-carried or concealed - as they move around with scissors and reach over them with buzzers. It just doesn't mix.

BURNETT: One gun owner complained on a web forum for Texas handgun license holders. The lid is off this can of worms, and it will never go back. I hope the right to walk around looking like Wyatt Earp is worth it to the open-carry folks because a lot of us are losing our right to conceal carry. John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.