Fifty days into the open carry era in Texas, things in the Austin metro area have been conspicuously calm.
The policy’s critics thought the law allowing gun license holders to openly carry handguns would usher in a modern-day Wild West, but the American-Statesman found only two 911 calls have been made to Austin area police since the law took effect Jan. 1. Neither case resulted in criminal charges or any violence.
The placid denouement after all the fervor surrounding the law’s adoption had its supporters reminiscing about the period two decades ago when similar outcry accompanied the passage of concealed gun carry laws in Texas.
“It’s kind of funny, and it was hard for me to not chuckle when I heard the same stupid arguments I heard years and years ago,” said Suzanna Hupp, a former Texas House member who was at the forefront of the movement to pass concealed carry laws in 1995.
As with open carry, Hupp said police chiefs across Texas testified at the Capitol that concealed handguns would be harmful to police. Backed by an association representing chiefs across Texas, Austin’s Chief Art Acevedo fought strongly to defeat the open carry bill as it made its way through the legislature last year.
“We always knew their fears and rhetoric would be proven false,” said CJ Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas. “I guess it boggles my mind, every time Texas debates a new gun law they predict doom and gloom, and they’re wrong.”
Austin police focused on educating their department about the law, according to police Cmdr. Andy Michael, who trains officers. Call takers at the 911 center received training on what to ask callers who report a person openly carrying a gun, such as finding out whether it was holstered. They were to explain the law to the callers and dispatch an officer, if the caller requested it.
“It turns out that bit wasn’t even all that necessary, because the calls aren’t coming in,” Michael said.
One 911 call did come in on Jan. 10 when a man told police he felt threatened by a man openly carrying a gun inside the La Tapatia restaurant at Anderson Mill and U.S. 183 in Northwest Austin. The two men exchanged heated words in which the weapon carrier asked the other man to take things outside.
Officers came to the restaurant, took a statement from the armed man (who never brandished or even touched the gun) and left, police said.
One other 911 call involving open carry occurred Jan. 3 in Round Rock and came from a staff member at the H-E-B on U.S. 79 near A.W. Grimes Boulevard. The grocery store chain has banned open carry at all of its locations.
In that instance, a man walked into the store with a weapon. The store security staff called the police, as is the retailer’s standard practice, according to the 911 call.
Michael said he has yet to see a person openly carrying a weapon.
Mike Cox, a Driftwood rancher who teaches a concealed handgun license course, said he supports open carry, but would only do it off his property when it makes sense, like when he gets his mail or rides his tractor down the road.
“It’s just going to invite conversations with morons,” Cox said. “I’m not trying to talk them into my perspective on this one. I would never open carry just because I don’t want to deal with that.”
The next step for proponents of open carry is constitutional carry, essentially open carry of guns without the requirement for any handgun license. Grisham said he will push for that in next year’s legislative session. In several states, it is already the law.
“Vermont has had this for years,” Hupp said. “The Yankees have had this for years. You think Texas constituents are less trustworthy than the Yankees in Vermont?”
By the numbers
Anyone wishing to openly carry a handgun legally is required to have a license. The number of active handgun licenses in Texas at the end of each year:
- 2015 — 937,419
- 2014 — 825,957
- 2013 — 708,048
- 2012 — 584,850
Source: Texas Department of Public Safety