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Texas revisits allowing open carry of handguns

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Bryan Hull hopes that the Ruger LC9 pistol holstered on his hip sends a clear message.

He’s not hiding the fact that he is armed and ready to protect himself.

“With conceal carry, all I can do is react when someone has begun an attack,” said Hull, president and founding director of the Oklahoma Open Carry Association.

“With open carry, I may be able to stop an attack.”

Hull was among those who encouraged Oklahoma legislators to pass a law last year that lets those who are licensed to have concealed handguns openly carry their firearms.

And he began openly carrying his when the law took effect Nov. 1.

Now he and other neighbors to the north say it’s Texas’ turn.

“The entire country is shocked that Texans can’t open carry,” said Hull, 44, a general manager of a wrecker service. “It doesn’t fit the culture.”

At a time when gun control has become part of the national conversation — and gun stores are trying to keep up with the demand for ammunition, magazines and guns — Rep. George Lavender has filed a bill to change the way guns are carried in Texas.

Lavender proposes letting Texans with concealed handgun licenses openly carry their firearms, as gun owners in states ranging from Oklahoma to Minnesota already do.

“Texas is one of only a handful of states that does not allow some form of open carry despite being one of the most pro-Second Amendment states in the country,” said Lavender, R-Texarkana. “It is important we pass open carry this session.”

Marsha McCartney hopes Lavender fails.

“Back in the Old West, people had to leave their guns at the edge of town,” said McCartney, a spokeswoman for the Texas chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “I thought that was very sensible. I wonder why that was changed.”

Texas is one of six states, plus the District of Columbia, that do not allow open carry.

For years, gun rights proponents have urged state lawmakers to make it legal. And more than 77,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry to allow it.

Lavender, who sought to pass such a bill in 2011, is trying again.

He has filed a bill with Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, to let licensed Texans carry handguns in shoulder or belt holsters.

Lavender said the odds of passing the measure — HB 700 — are better this session.

“This bill is important to many people for a variety of reasons,” he said. “For some, it is a matter of personal safety. For others, it simply is a convenience/personal preference issue.

“And for some, it is a 10th Amendment/constitutional issue.”

John Pierce, who has advocated this change for years, will drum up support.

“We have high hopes for it in Texas this year,” said Pierce, co-founder of OpenCarry.org. “Texas has for so long in this country stood as a symbol of rugged individualism and freedom.

“I think it is embarrassing that people can sit at a Starbucks in Minneapolis open-carrying … but somehow the people in Houston or Dallas can’t handle that.”

Pierce said his group will start raising money to help inform Texans about this initiative through billboards and possibly radio ads.

He would love to see Texas move forward with open carry and leave Washington, D.C., Arkansas, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina and New York as the only places that allow no form of it.

Twenty-nine states allow open carry and don’t require a license. Last session in Texas, proposals such as allowing concealed carry on college campuses and in parking lots took a higher priority.

But now, Lavender said, several senators have expressed interest in backing the bill.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said it’s time for this proposal to move forward.

“I support open carry by license holders. What better way to determine who standing around you is a good guy?” said Patterson, a former state senator who carried the legislation that legalized concealed handguns in Texas 18 years ago. “You know the person standing there with a gun on their hip has passed a background check, is up on their child support. …

“One hundred years ago in Texas, honest men carried openly and only criminals carried concealed,” he said. “It’s interesting how in the last 25 to 30 years, open carry became bad.”

The Legislature passed Texas’ concealed handgun law in 1995. More than 585,000 Texans hold licenses, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Oklahoma legislators approved a bill last year letting anyone with a concealed handgun license display a firearm in a shoulder or belt holster as of Nov. 1.

The state has 146,262 residents licensed to carry handguns, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

In Oklahoma, as in Texas, the number of requests for concealed handgun licenses increased in 2009, the year Barack Obama was sworn in as president, and last year, when there were several mass shootings and Obama was re-elected, records from both states show.

Oklahoma officials say they are aware of no incidents since open carry took effect that caused the state bureau to suspend or revoke licenses.

“This enhances Oklahomans’ ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” state Sen. Anthony Sykes, a Republican, said after the bill passed.

“I think the evidence is clear that gun owners are some of the most responsible people, and they’ve shown that in not just Oklahoma, where we’ve had concealed carry for quite some time and there’s never been an incident, but in these other states as well.”

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