Don’t let “open carry” get you carried away!
This should be the slogan every Black person in Texas considers using, because at the stroke of midnight, beginning January 1, 2016, any individual who holds a Texas Concealed Handgun License will be allowed to openly carry their handgun as the law of the land.
The law, passed by the 84th Texas Legislature and signed in June by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, will allow people with permits to carry their handguns outside their clothes, and those who already have concealed handgun licenses will only need to renew their permits when it comes time for renewal. Everyone else will need new training on the new “open carry” law.
The real question, however, is will Black people receive the same level of respect and consideration when it comes to the application of this new law as non-Black people will?
Prior to the passage of the new law, current Texas law only allowed anyone to openly carry a rifle or shotgun. Now, only CHL holders will be allowed to openly carry a handgun under the new “open carry” law, as long as they are licensed by Texas or a state with reciprocity.
History shows us there has been a tremendous element of risk that Black people have faced when it comes to dealing with law enforcement. There has been a consistent pattern in society, and in the mainstream media, of Blacks being viewed as the guilty aggressor, while Whites are typically viewed as “not guilty” and focused on protecting themselves when they carry firearms.
The overarching perception amongst many people in society is that Blacks are overly aggressive criminals, who are inherently up to no good. This is extremely concerning, especially when Blacks run the risk of being identified as criminals to law enforcement officials, despite not breaking any laws.
As we look at the significant number of unarmed Black people who have been killed in this country by members of law enforcement, it leads many people to believe this new “open carry” law is not intended for Black people, but for non-Black people. When members of law enforcement constantly use the narratives that they thought the “suspect” was “reaching for his/her waistband,” or that they had to shoot because they were “in fear of their lives,” one can see how the implementation of this new “open carry” law has many Texas residents concerned.
According to a recently released report from law enforcement watchdog Mapping Police Violence, between January 1 and December 15, 2015, police officers in the United States shot, beat, used stun guns on or otherwise killed a staggering 1,152 people.
What is even more troubling in the Mapping Police Violence report is the fact that 59 out of the nation’s 60 largest police departments killed at least one individual or let someone die in their custody, and 100 percent of the people killed at 14 of those police departments were exclusively Black. Only five of those U.S. police departments killed only White people.
In Houston, some entities have chosen to embrace the law and others have not.
Because many members of the Black community in Houston rely on public transportation, there should be some level of preparation and caution, because METRO officials are allowing all passengers to openly carry holstered guns on METRO buses and light rails if they have a permit.
METRO customers will also be allowed to openly carry holstered guns at the METRO RideStore, but not at METRO board meetings. METRO Police Chief Vera Bumpers says light rail and bus operators are being trained not to ask passengers if they have a permit. If an operator or passenger notices someone acting suspicious, operators will have to call METRO Police.
The faculty senate at the University of Houston recently held a meeting and said “no” to guns on campus. They passed a resolution that says “weapons designed to end human life have no place in the academic life of the university, except when carried by duly authorized law officers.”
The resolution has been presented to University of Houston President Renu Khator, who hasn’t made a decision about campus carry. She currently has a task force meeting with groups across campus asking for their opinions. Although “open carry” will take affect across the state of Texas on January 1, 2016, the “campus carry” part of the law will begin on August 1, 2016, for all four-year colleges and universities and on August 1, 2017, for all two-year colleges.
Per the new “open carry” law, business owners can ban open carry in their stores by posting a sign near the entrance.
San Antonio-based grocery chain, H-E-B, has recently come out and stated they will not allow visible handguns in any of its 318 Texas stores. H-E-B joined stores such as Target and Whataburger, who have also asked customers not to openly carry guns in their locations. This past week, the Galleria mall joined in and decided not to allow visible handguns as well.
The Houston Police Department (HPD) has been preparing for new “open carry” law change by publishing information, that they hope will help eliminate confusion about the law, on the HPD website. The HPD website lists the following legislation affecting “open carry”: House Bill (HB 910); Senate Bill (SB 11); and Senate Bill (SB 273).
Earlier in the month, HPD Chief Charles A. McClelland Jr., Harris Country District Attorney Devon Anderson and Houston City Attorney Donna Edmundson participated in a panel discussion and answered questions from the public on the new Texas Open Carry legislation. This informational meeting addressed state law and municipal authority over the regulation of firearms in Texas. There was a Q&A prepared by HPD Chief McClelland, Harris County DA Anderson and City Attorney Edmundson, which was developed out of those public hearings the department held with citizens.
Below are a few important Q&A pieces that appear directly on the HPD’s website:
Question: If a person is open carrying a handgun, how does a police officer determine if he is carrying the handgun legally?
Answer: Constitutional carry did not pass in Texas, so a police officer has the right to ask you to prove that you have a CHL (Concealed Handgun License). If you are asked by a police officer to prove that you are allowed to carry a handgun, you must produce identification.
Question: If I see a person open carrying a handgun, should I call the police?
Answer: Yes you can call the police, but before you call, observe how the person is acting. If they are acting suspicious, or enter a building such as a school, then please give us a call. But, if they are simply at a gas station filling up their car, then they are probably a law abiding citizen who is legally open carrying.
Question: If you are walking down a street, and an officer approaches you, is it a voluntary encounter, or at this point am I “detained”?
Answer: Technically, you are temporarily detained so that the officer can check your license and make sure that you are legally able to carry a handgun.
Question: Does a citizen have the right to ask a CHL carrier for proof of licensing?
Answer: No. A citizen does not have the right to ask a CHL carrier for proof that he or she is legally carrying a weapon.
Question: What advice would you give to someone who is feeling anxious or intimidated in an open carry environment?
Answer: Open carry is going to be something that everyone will have to get used to. Initially it will be weird to see someone carrying a handgun in the grocery store, but it is important to know that the people who are open carrying a gun are law abiding citizens and are not there to intimidate or hurt you.
Question: Some organizations that are in opposition to open carry, have said that if they see someone openly carrying a handgun, they will call 911 and say that person is being aggressive and threatening people with the weapon. How will the police handle situations like this?
Answer: The police will act with caution when approaching the person, they will collect the facts, and when it is found that this person was doing nothing wrong, the investigation will be turned towards the person who made the false 911 call.
The rest of the Q&A can be found at http://www.houstontx.gov/police/open_carry/index.htm.
In the end, “open carry” is the law of the land and it will take some serious getting used to. For those law enforcement officials who violate the law and racially profile lawfully carrying Black people, it may take several federal lawsuits in order to address the issue and stop the behavior.
Gun rights are civil rights and are not just for non-Black people, and there is some form of legal “open carry” law in 43 states in the U.S. It has become the state of Texas’ legal right to allow any African American law abiding citizen to exercise “open carry” if they so choose, without harassment or without being racially-profiled.
Whether driving while Black, walking down the street while Black or, now, legally carrying a firearm while Black, the skin color of Black people should not be used to stereotype and treat Black people like very few other races of people in America are treated.
As this “open carry” law goes into effect, members of law enforcement will have to purposefully strike a delicate balance between trying to prevent panic while not infringing on individual’s gun rights. On the flip-side, while it is legal for anyone, including Black people, to be able to legally carry a gun across the streets of the city of Houston, or any other city in Texas, it may not be the most prudent decision; not only because it could incite fear, but considering the recent history of the relationship between Blacks and law enforcement in this country, there is a precedent that exists that shows what could happen to Black people, even when they are carrying a firearm.
Time will tell how this law will impact the African American community, but there is one thing African Americans should always be mindful of in Texas – don’t let “open carry” get you carried away!