84th Texas Lege must think guns need their full attention

Texas is a wonderful place. If you don’t believe it, just ask a Texan. Personally, I think The Lone Star state is a great one. I’ve lived for brief times elsewhere. For instance, I lived in Mississippi for 2 and a half years when I was stationed there in the Navy. I served aboard a warship for a year after that. No one ever pulled a gun on me and said I had to live in Texas. It was a decision that I made alone.

So bunches of Texans, myself included, will attest to the greatness of our home state. Thus, it baffles me how one of the most prominent topics shaping up for the biennial session of the Texas Legislature appears to be firearms — guns. That is guns both long and short, concealed or unconcealed, worn either on the inside or outside by both citizen and official, and even packed by paramedics and volunteer firefighters.

Looking at the early bills filed today — the 84th Legislature begins Jan. 1, 2015 — I found no less than 10 bills filed in the House and one in the Senate seeking much more freedom for those who carry guns. Now if you happen to think of Texas, one of the things that comes to mind is guns. Texans love their guns. So one might wonder how much freedom do Texans want when it comes to firearms?

Texas has had a concealed carry law for almost 20 years. The legislation — signed into law by then-Gov. George W. Bush — had a number of restrictions with it such as where handguns could and could not be carried. So-called “long guns,” such as rifles and shotguns” had no statewide prohibition as to how and when they were carried into the open.

Almost seven years ago an amendment to the gun laws almost silently became effective as to how, when and where handguns could be toted. The state had long had a “traveling rule” saying guns could be carried by unlicensed individuals if they happened to travel through several counties. This became expanded considerably with the 2007 amendment. People could now travel from their home and back with a handgun as long as it is concealed. No license needed. The person carrying had only to have the gun hidden from plain view and they could not belong to a criminal enterprise. “Okay, I don’t have a gun anywhere that you can see. I’m also not a member of the Bloods, I swear.”

Discontent by some gun enthusiasts over the carry law for long weapons heated up this year in Texas. Here in Beaumont, where I live, is one of the places where demonstrations were held by people walking down the streets carrying their rifles, along with their kids slinging rifles, in the open.

It seems now the debate over how Texans carry weapons — either concealed or not concealed — has come full circle.

A push for openly carrying handguns has arisen and a black Republican lawmaker from East Texas has filed bills which would allow open carrying of pistols. Rep. James White, a former Army infantry officer and teacher from rural Tyler County, has filed HB 164 which changes the concealed carry law to include carrying a handgun openly.

North Central Texan Rep. Jonathan Strickland, a former community college student and pest control salesman who describes himself as a “Conservative Republican,” helps neatly trim the legal edges of both open and concealed debate. His HB 195 would abolish the offense of “Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon.” This would apparently also include legalizing illegal knives and clubs.

The pre-filed bills also broaden the places and circumstances where weapons may be carried. A curious bill filled by freshman Republican Rep. Ken King, an oil and gas service owner from the Panhandle-South Plains area, allows open carry by some of those issued concealed carry permits such as retired law enforcement officers. The bill adds, however, the authority for handguns to be allowed for “certain emergency services personnel” who operate within a county with less than 50,000 people.

Now I am not certain what King’s bill, HB 353, means. Is he talking of allowing volunteer EMS and fire personnel in counties with less than 50,000 to carry pistols openly? With some quick figures I put together using the U.S. Census database, I would estimate that about we are talking about 80 percent of the 254 Texas counties. That would include a lot of armed volunteer firefighters and EMS folks.

What is wrong with arming volunteer firefighters? That is partly a question that has hovered over the fire service for many years. The question has gone back at least for a half-century or more, back to the days when Southern firefighters were shown on national TV news turning their hoses on those protesting civil rights. This may also have caused injuries or even death for those “firemen” who later tried to extinguish the too many blazes set during the race riots of the late 1960s across the U.S.

Many larger, professional, fire departments later recognized the danger of their being used as a tool of the police. This especially was true once firefighters became the most logical choice for delivering emergency medical services. Here is an example I was given while training as a rookie firefighter. Let’s say you have a medical call. It turns out there is a patient overdosing on heroin or another drug. The EMT needs information about what the patient was doing prior to the emergency to properly treat and maybe save the person. If the patient could say anything, upon seeing an armed medic, he might not disclose that he ran up a bunch of junk in his veins. Such a scenario also is used in the battle over fire departments and so-called “public safety agencies.” The latter are cross-trained as cops and do all three jobs as cop, EMT and firefighter. Some places it works. Others it fails.

I know the zealots want zero restrictions on guns. No regulation whatsoever are wanted. As much as I enjoy target shooting with both long guns and pistols, I believe moderation in all things. I say that now, but I mean it with weapons. I once thought handguns that were openly carried was the way to go. I no longer think so. I think too many complications are in the way of that working. The bills advocating open carry and these other bills filed for 2015 in Texas, they need watching, closely.