On Sunday, dueling motorcycle gangs in Waco engaged in battle in a suburban restaurant. With nine dead, well more than a dozen injured and nearly 200 arrested, the incident is already one of the biggest acts of mass violence this year.
And it happened in Texas.
Texas, our gun-toting, Second Amendment-protecting Texas. The same state that boasts one of the highest rates of concealed carriage of handguns in the country, with some of the loosest laws regulating guns too. The same state that still wishes to loosen the laws further.
Take open carry, which has taken many forms within the legislative process this year. All the proposals would essentially allow concealed handgun license holders to openly display their arms, arguably a minor difference. Some gun rights activists, though, crowed that this was not enough. One was state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, a proponent of what he calls constitutional carry, which would remove all licensing and regulatory restrictions on carrying arms.
HB 910, a version of open carry that passed the House last month, included a sneaky amendment authored by Reps. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, and Mitt Rinaldi, R-Irving, respectively, but mainly spearheaded by Stickland. They inserted language that prohibits law enforcement personnel from inquiring as to whether individuals openly carrying hold licenses.
"The open carry law as it was passed out of the Texas House of Representatives will cause confusion where there should be none," said Scott Braddock, editor of the political publication Quorum Report. "Lawmakers in the lower chamber voted to make it illegal for police officers to ask a person to produce their license solely because they are openly carrying a firearm."
According to Braddock, state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, removed the language from the bill when it entered the Senate, and there is a very good chance that Stickland's amendment will not be included in the final law.
Still, the recent violence in Waco should only serve to crystallize exactly why the state should — if anything — move toward more firearm regulation rather than less. Before the shooting, the Waco Police Department expressed concern about the possible hotbed of organized crime the restaurant had become by continually hosting the gangs. The restaurant pointedly did not cooperate with authorities.
Under the proposed law that Stickland orchestrated, and the lower chamber passed by wide margins, Waco police would have been unable to use the biker gangs' incessant brandishing of their firearms as cause to question them, leaving them helpless to take effective and preventive measures. Fortunately, not all the legislature has been so supportive.
"The violence in Waco Sunday is an example of why open carry is a bad idea. Responsible people are not going to be the only ones with guns. The number of dead and injured could have been much worse," said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. "The House version of open carry prevents police from asking if a person has a handgun license, so even our law enforcement officers won’t know who’s carrying a gun. I do not want to see one member of our brave men and women in law enforcement injured or killed because of a bad bill the Texas Legislature passed. Really?"
Really, indeed. Fortunately, the Senate still has a chance to place Stickland's rash and reactionary proposal in the trash heap of the session, where it rightly belongs. In an ideal world, they should put open carry there too.
Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. Follow Horwitz on Twitter @NmHorwitz.