Like most of us who grew up in the early 1960s, I remember the strange public safety drills we practiced at school. The fire drill made sense. At the sounding of three loud tones over the PA system, we’d line up at the door like little soldiers and be guided out to the playground by our teacher to escape a potential fire. But no one left the building when we heard five loud tones. That alert signaled the bomb drill, and we were required to “duck and cover,” i.e., hide under our desks until the “all clear” signal was heard.
I was never audacious enough to peek out to see whether the teachers also took cover under their desk, but I assume they did – which is really remarkable, if you think about it. Surely, they knew better. Innocents that we were, the utter futility of desk hiding did not occur to us.
Texans now have another reason for alarm that should galvanize us to brush up on our “duck and cover” skills. This time, we won’t be defending ourselves against bombs from the U.S.S.R., but rather a group of people closer to home. Thanks to local gun nuts and our own elected officials who need the nuts to get re-elected, we can once again meet our end almost any time and any place. You see, the gun people aren’t happy with a concealed handgun license (CHL) that merely allows them to carry their weaponry discretely under their clothes. They now want us to see them strap it on, strut their stuff, or more simply put, display their manliness (whichever the gender). More disturbing still is that law enforcement won’t even be allowed to detain someone to determine whether they actually have the required CHL if the Texas House majority gets its way.
Reasonable minds simply don’t have enough votes in the Texas House. For example, shot down by the House majority was an amendment proposed by Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas that would allow the large local metropolitan areas to opt out of the open carry law. Another representative from Houston made an argument about local voters being able to make decisions on matters of grave local importance, but Rep. Larry Phillips declared that the collective best interests of Texas in having an open carry law trumped any local control of the issue. By the way, Rep. Phillips is from a county with a website boasting a banner that “God Bless America,” located not a stone’s throw from Louie Gohmert’s Congressional district. Does that clue you in?
Rep. Phillips’ position totally belies the fact that Texas is big and varied, including counties such as Loving whose seat, Mentone, has a population of 15 people, Harris whose seat, Houston, is among the most populous cities in the nation, and all sizes in between. Compare the effects of gun fighting in Houston (population over 6 million) with those that might erupt in Rep. Phillips’ home town of Sherman (population under 40,000). Seems like even an East Texan could see a rational justification for allowing large cities to make certain decisions under a local option. Aren’t their police departments already stretched thin dealing with gun violence and people who have illegal weapons?
Heelllooo!!! Now, we will have visibly armed citizens and law enforcement will have no idea whether any particular weapon is legal or illegal and they won’t be allowed to ask. Could the open carry law, I wonder, just be a pretext to make all guns legal? If police officers can’t handle the situation now how will they manage when so many more people will be carrying guns that the officers can’t question? At least we can hope that the chances of getting shot by law enforcement will be spread out more equally among the races and ethnic groups.
Just for the record, I’m part of the crowd who would prefer not to be around guns, concealed or not, but I’m downright panicky at the thought of them being handled so casually, sitting on people’s hips or shoulder like a piece of outerwear. It seems like it would be way too tempting for the random criminal who may try to separate a legal carrier from his penis, I mean, gun? And won’t a gun on the table change conversations or transactions, escalating acrimonious encounters like road rage? Will intimidation become the name of the game?
In the thankful-for-small-favors department, a premises owner has the option of prohibiting guns at his place of business, both concealed and open carry, giving us the option of frequenting only such businesses as wish to guarantee our safety to some degree. You would think that the Texas Association of Business would have tried harder to kill the bill, but they just managed to get an amendment that would allow premises owners to put up one sign instead of two (one for concealed, one for open carry). I guess there aren’t enough business owners in Texas to counter the gun nuts.
The bottom line is that Texas with gun slingers is going to be a more dangerous place. In a letter to the Austin American Statesman, Charles Payne wrote about his experience in Vietnam where he and the guys around him all openly carried guns: Did I feel safer? No, just hyper-vigilant. There, final justice became whatever the gun carrier conceived it to be . . . . I hate war zone living where everyone openly carried a gun with a finger near the trigger all the time, including me. Mistakes happened. Good guys get killed by good guys over little stuff . . . . I really do not want to see guns everywhere again – or go looking for mine.
In another letter, Mike Looby, ex-Marine Vietnam vet explains he is comfortable with guns, but up to a point: If I’m on a hunting trip, I expect people to have guns. But if I’m in a Wal-Mart and there’s some guy toting an AK or packing a pistol, that makes me pause. Just as I’m not against underwear and I think everyone has the right to wear it, if I see a guy with underwear on the outside of his pants, I’m a little worried.
We should all be worried. One of the biggest problems with gun carrying is that there is a tendency for those guns to be used, either accidentally or on purpose. And once a trigger is pulled, there can be little or no control over where that bullet will go. If the mark is missed (and I’m sure most carriers do not have sharpshooting credentials), that bullet can go through walls and continue traveling some distance. Bullets range in velocities from 380 feet per second to 3500 feet per second, so the higher the velocity the longer the trajectory. Likewise, different guns have different “kill ranges,” usually measured in a few hundred yards. A good rule of thumb for a bullet that misses its intended target, assuming there is one, is a traveling distance of one mile, although it may or may not kill at that distance. Are you feeling lucky?
So, imagine the scenario of being in a store at a strip center that you think is safe because the store prohibits guns, but a fight breaks out in the parking lot and bullets come streaming through the front glass windows just where many people happen to be standing because that’s where the cash registers are. How many innocent people could be killed or maimed? Why aren’t our elected officials interested in protecting us from this or any other possible scenario? (Dumb question, I know.)
Accordingly, it occurs to me that we need to bring back the safety drill of the 60s. If they won’t do this at school, we need to instill in our children that the sound of a fired bullet is a signal that they must immediately drop and hide behind the strongest surface they can find. As adults, we need to be prepared as well, keeping in mind that our police cannot protect us, and in fact, may not be able to protect themselves without shooting their own guns more than ever – exposing us to increasingly more errant bullets. Sad to say, but the wild, wild west is back!
The ultimate irony is that our Republican leadership has always tried to brand itself as the “law and order” party. Now in Texas, trying to use such a brand has officially become laughable — just like hiding under a desk during a nuclear attack!