Thousands sign petition to make Texas an open-carry state
By ANNA M. TINSLEYIf Duane Suddeth had his way, he could strap on a handgun and wear it — anytime, anywhere — without concealing it.That day has not come in Texas, but the 42-year-old Bedford man is among thousands hoping it is on its way.
"This is the public’s right," Suddeth said. "Whether they choose to exercise that or not is up to them."
Texas, despite its independence and frontier reputation, is one of only six states where handguns cannot — in some form — legally be worn in plain view.
Suddeth is among a group of residents wanting to change that who have joined a growing nationwide "open-carry" movement.
Some say it harks back to constitutional rights and frontier days when settlers carried their weapons where everyone could see them.
"It was considered part of everyday life back then," said John Pierce, co-founder of www.OpenCarry.org, a champion of the effort. "The concealed-carry part was what was looked at with disdain."
In Texas, where residents may carry concealed handguns if they have a permit, more than 3,500 people have signed an online petition asking Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature to make Texas an open-carry state.
"Cowboys and Indians, and the Alamo — and many just assumed that Texas was an open-carry state," wrote Gary Williams, one of many Texans advocating for gun law change. "Clearly, there are some changes that need to be made."
Gun safety advocates aren’t so sure.
"What are they trying to do? Go back to Texas gunslinger days?" asked Richard Leal, a board member of the Houston-based Texans for Gun Safety. "Things are bad enough as it is, with people 18 and older being authorized to carry guns."
The open-carry effort
Many states such as Texas do have concealed handgun rules and permits in place.
But many also have open-carry rules, unlike Texas, along with New York, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., according to OpenCarry.org.
Dozens of states either issue licenses for open carry or allow the practice without any license, according to the Web site.
"The concealed-carry movement that swept the country in past decades has been a great benefit to law-abiding citizens to be able to protect themselves in an uncertain world," Pierce said. "But we are trying to re-educate people that open carry is . . . a basic gun right."
The Texas Citizens Defense League, of which Williams and Suddeth are members, is trying to get the word out.
Part of that is the petition that asks that all people who may legally buy a handgun also be allowed to carry it openly, except in places prohibited by law.
"I can’t count the times I have been in some discussion about open carry in some Northern state . . . and somebody says, 'Hey, this is not . . . Texas,’ " said Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of OpenCarry.org.
"And I respond, 'Thankfully you are correct, as open carry is banned in Texas.’ "
Any change to the law would come from the Texas Legislature, which is why the petition is to lawmakers and Perry.
The issue is not on the governor’s plate yet, a spokeswoman said.
"The governor is very supportive of conceal and carry laws," said Kristi Piferrer, a Perry spokeswoman. "Expanding that to open carry probably will take a lot of public deliberation and legislative guidance."
Some law enforcers say they would be leery of an open-carry policy in Texas.
"I really think it would cause a lot of uneasiness in the community, with people seeing so many guns," Tarrant County Constable Sergio DeLeon said. "It could create more problems than it would solve."
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who as a state senator helped make concealed-carry law in 1995, said he doesn’t believe that open carry would create any problems.
While he never considered proposing an open-carry measure, Patterson said he has seen the practice in Arizona.
"I went into the bank, and a guy walked in with a .45 in his back pocket," he said. "I thought, 'Well, that’s unusual.’ "
"You never know"
Suddeth, an IT professional who does some travel for work, said he would like to openly carry a loaded handgun. In the past year, Suddeth said there was an elderly woman attacked, cars broken into, a home broken into and several assaults in his Bedford neighborhood.
"You never know when crime is going to happen," he said. "I think eventually we will see open carry in Texas.
"Eventually, it will happen."
Open-carry states Texas is one of six states that either do not allow or highly restrict the open carrying of handguns in public. The others are New York, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida and South Carolina, as well as Washington, D.C., according to OpenCarry.org.More than a dozen states require a license for open carry, from Utah to Mississippi to Massachusetts. Eleven more, from Vermont to Arizona, allow it but don’t require licenses. Still more generally permit it but offer various restrictions. And two states, California and Illinois, allow loaded handguns to be carried in rural areas, according to the Web site.
"OpenCarry.org believes that 'a right unexercised is a right lost,’ and increasingly gun owners are agreeing," according to the Web site. "It’s time gun carry comes out of the closet in America."