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It’s about the domestic violence

You want to do something to reduce gun violence, here’s the place to start.

Domestic violence cases have risen sharply across the state, with more than 210,000 wives, girlfriends, husbands and others suffering death or injury at the hands of a family member in the past two years. More than 550 wives or girlfriends were killed by a domestic partner between 2012 and 2016, according to state figures.

“We continue to underestimate the reach and devastation of domestic violence,” said Gloria Aguilera Terry, chief executive of the Texas Council on Family Violence. “Domestic violence thrives in the silence and obliviousness we give it. Only when we confront the very conditions which allow domestic violence to exist will our homes, public spaces and places of worship be truly safe.”

[…]

Despite law enforcement’s best efforts to curb the violence, the deaths continue unabated. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Science recorded 229 domestic violence homicides from 2010 to 2016, or an average of 31 homicides a year.

Of those, at least 22 – about 10 percent – were relatives of the main victim.

Amanda Johnson, with the Dallas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Guns Sense in America, said the shooting underscores the need for smarter gun laws.

“People violent enough to be violent enough with their own children and spouses are also violent enough to commit mass murder,” she said. “When they have easy access to these weapons, it’s a really deadly combination.”

She and other advocates hope the Sutherland Springs shooting will spark a national dialogue, particularly with the daily abuse many women face that doesn’t draw the same scrutiny as a mass shooting.

“Up until now, the media would lose interest in a shooting once they found out it was a domestic violence incident and not a ‘real’ crime,” Johnson said. “Sutherland Springs is a game-changer.”

Sherri Kendall, CEO of Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence, said approximately 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence at one point or another.

“While we are seeing a number of multiple homicides with domestic violence in the timeline, it is happening all the time,” she said. “We have to learn something from it. When this story is over we have to continue to be vigilant in our communities to make sure there are services for survivors and for perpetrators.”

The Sutherland Springs shooting highlighted the need to ensure domestic abusers can’t possess firearms, advocates said.

“This man had a history of abuse, and he should not have had access to a firearm, and we are advocating for stricter gun laws when it comes to being the hands of convicted abusers,” said Chau Nguyen, chief marketing officer at the Houston Area Women’s Center. “If we don’t take action, we’re going to see this as a recurring reality in our lives – and we know the link between domestic violence abusers and mass shooters.”

The link between domestic violence and gun violence is very strong. It’s not just the guys who commit the big headline-grabbing mass murders who depressingly and consistently turn out to have had a history of domestic violence, it’s the everyday (literally, every day) three-to-six people killings that no one outside those affected pay attention to because we’re all mesmerized by the latest double-digit massacre. There are many things we could do to ameliorate this if we wanted to. My advice would be to elect more people who do want to do something about it.

Rep. Martinez to introduce “don’t shoot guns in the air” bill

You’d think this wouldn’t be necessary, but it is.

Rep. Mando Martinez

After being hit in the head with a bullet shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve, state Rep. Armando Martinez plans to file legislation aimed at reducing or preventing celebratory gun firings.

“If my legislation could help save a life, you know, then definitely that’s what we’re gonna be looking at doing,” the Weslaco Democrat said Monday in a phone interview from the Valley Baptist Medical Center shortly before he was released.

What exactly that legislation will look like is unclear, but it would possibly work to regulate or prevent celebratory gunfire, he said. The next legislative session starts on Jan. 10.

“Something dealing with celebratory gunfire, definitely,” Martinez said. “But I need to talk to our sheriff’s department and maybe our (district attorney) and see exactly what type of ideas they have as well, so that way we can get an idea of how we’re going to do it and propose it.”

[…]

Martinez said that there were a lot of people in the area celebrating the start of the new year by firing guns in the air before he was hit.

“I think that’s something that definitely needs to change.” Martinez said. “Growing up, we grew up around guns. You know, I have a (concealed handgun license). I’m a hunter. But everybody knows better than to get a gun and fire it up in the air because what goes up must come down.”

See here for the background. As Rep. Martinez says, he’s a lucky man – a little bit one way or the other, and his family might be planning his funeral. We don’t know exactly what this bill will look like till he writes it, and for sure a bill like this could end up being too broad, or too vague, or too punitive, and if that happens people will oppose it for various rational reasons. But as a base proposition, I would hope that we can all agree that it should be illegal to randomly shoot a gun into the air, for the same reason it is illegal to randomly shoot a gun in your backyard or on the street: It’s dangerous. You could injure or kill someone, possibly without being aware of it. There’s no legitimate purpose being served by firing a gun into the air, whether as a “celebration” or for some other reason. I say all this because I will be very interested to see if someone decides to oppose this on some kind of Second Amendment justification. I have no idea what that might be – even the most rabid gun hoarders tend to pay lip service to “responsible” gun owners and ownership – but in the year 2017 all I can say is that I won’t be too surprised if it happens. Along similar lines, you may recall in my post about Mayor Turner’s priorities for the Lege that the city’s official legislative priorities includes on page 18 the item “Prohibiting the Sale of Pipe Bombs at Gun Shows”. I can’t wait to see who the pro-pipe bomb faction is. Anyway, I’m glad Rep. Martinez is recovering, and I’ll add his bill to my watch list.

How not to celebrate New Years Eve

DO NOT SHOOT GUNS IN THE AIR! Seriously.

Rep. Mando Martinez

Local law enforcement authorities here have confirmed that State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, District 39, is recovering after being struck by a “stray bullet.”

According to Weslaco police, Martinez underwent surgery today related to a gunshot wound to the head. Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra confirmed that Martinez is in stable condition and that the surgery was to remove the “projectile” from his head.

[…]

The sheriff said Martinez felt something on top of his head and was rushed to a local hospital after the representative’s wife observed a small hole on the top left side of her husband’s head.

Rep. Martinez is lucky. People have been killed by this sort of idiocy. Don’t do that, and if you ever hear of someone boasting about doing it, give them hell about it. And get well quickly, Rep. Martinez.

AG upholds Dallas Zoo ban on guns

For now.

It’s back

The Dallas Zoo can continue to ban guns at its 106-acre campus in Oak Cliff after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this week rejected a citizen complaint that the zoo’s firearms policy violated state law.

Paxton’s office said in a letter dated Wednesday that the zoo qualifies as an amusement park. That’s an area where state law says the licensed carrying of handguns can be prohibited, so long as the proper notice is given.

So the privately-run zoo can keep up the signs prohibiting both concealed carry and open carry that it has posted at its entrance.

“We’re heartened that the Attorney General realizes that our zoo … isn’t the place for weapons,” Gregg Hudson, the zoo’s president said in a news release. “The vast majority of our guests are families with children, and they have strongly supported us on this issue.”

Edwin Walker, a Houston attorney, had challenged the zoo under a new state law that allows Texans to formally complain about some local “no guns” policies. His complaint was one of about 50 that have been filed in Texas since September.

He said on Friday that he disagreed with the ruling – arguing that the zoo shouldn’t be able to ban guns since it is owned by the city of Dallas. He predicted that the Legislature, run by gun-friendly Republicans, would take up the issue next year.

“I certainly don’t think that the Legislature envisioned, whenever they created the exception for amusement parks … that a piece of government property would be viewed as an amusement park,” Walker said.

[…]

The zoo offered a multi-pronged argument for why it could ban firearms, including that it should count as an educational institution. But the attorney general’s office ignored those other claims and focused only on the Dallas Zoo’s amusement park exemption.

The carve-out dates back to 1995 and the legislation that created concealed carry in Texas. Then-Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, amended the bill create an exemption aimed at the state’s major theme parks, such as Arlington’s Six Flags Over Texas.

“The nature of the rides and the activities at these theme parks are such that they could create a hazard,” he said during the House debate on the bill.

Today, privately owned theme parks like Six Flags don’t need that specific exemption to ban guns. That’s because the state’s gun laws were tweaked in 1997 to create a process for all private property owners to be able to prohibit guns if they so choose.

The eight-point definition for an amusement park exemption, however, remains part of the gun statutes. And the Dallas Zoo – which, for instance, has security guards on its premises at all times – meets all of those listed standards.

Point being, the Houston Zoo, which had taken down its “no guns” signs then put them back up after declaring itself an “educational institution”, can’t take any comfort from this opinion. And even if they could, I’m certain that Walker is correct and the Lege will trip over itself to accommodate the people like Walker who can’t feel safe anywhere unless they’re armed. So enjoy the reprieve while you can, zoo fans.

How ready is Texas law enforcement for open carry?

Hard to say. But we’ll begin to find out soon enough.

Texas law enforcement has also been pretty vocal about their concerns with open carry. They are, after all, the group who’ll have to deal with most of the potential fallout of the new law in the upcoming months. While a majority of police chiefs have expressed a general opposition to the law (75 percent, according to a survey in February) , they were most vocal in May when a provision was added that would prevent police officers from stopping people solely because they were openly carrying a gun. By then, the passing of open carry seemed inevitable, so even Democrats who were originally opposed to the law supported the provision in hopes that it would help prevent the targeting of people of color openly carrying handguns.

“What’s going to happen is more interaction between police and black and brown and poor people because of lawful activity,” Rep. Harold Dutton told KXAN.

The provision made some sense, especially considering issues of racial profiling among Texas state troopers, but it was flawed. In May, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference that the provision would “handcuff” police officers and prevent them from doing their jobs. He was accompanied by members of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, the Sheriff’s Association of Texas, and police unions from Houston and Dallas.

[…]

Experts predict that open carry will most likely take place in small numbers in rural areas, but unlike Oklahoma, six of the most populous cities in the country are in Texas: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and El Paso. And that’s not taking into account the political climate around gun control in Texas this year. There have been number of demonstrators openly carrying rifles in large cities, the most recent being a group of armed protestors in front of a mosque in Irving and demonstrators who marched with rifles near UT-Austin and later held a mock mass shooting to protest “gun-free zones.” It’s still unclear why they felt the need to protest what would soon be law.

But one of the biggest concerns of law enforcement is establishing the fine line between respecting the rights of someone legally carrying a handgun and protecting the general public. “What happens when an officer sees someone openly carrying a handgun in a holster, in accordance with the law, what can an officer legally do?” Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, told the Houston Chronicle. “We keep getting more questions than answers.”

The fear is that open carry will make it harder for police officers to tell the difference between a law-abiding citizen legally carrying a gun and someone with criminal intentions carrying a gun. In the Houston Chronicle, comments like these from Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, don’t really help to clarify things.

Houston police, he said, will not “be doing random stops of people simply to see if they have a CHL,” but they also will not “sit back for 30 minutes” if they have a reasonable suspicion to stop someone.

So, what will they do?

Click over and see. I think open carry is bad policy, but I also think it will have a relatively minimal effect. You have to have a concealed carry license in order to be able to carry openly, and it was already legal before now for any yahoo with a cheap Soldier of Fortune fantasy to carry any manner of rifle around in public, as we have seen over and over again. It’s the interaction between law enforcement and those who will be openly carrying that is hard to predict. If I had a CHL, I’d probably continue to carry my weapon in a concealed fashion, because who needs the hassle? But then I’m not the type of person who likes to invite trouble to make a point. The other questions involve where people can carry, and how many lawsuits are going to be filed because someone disagreed with someone else’s interpretation of that, and also with how businesses will cater to those who want to carry and those who want to not be around people who carry. I won’t be surprised if that first issue, for this and for campus carry, is revisited in 2017.

Would you like to sit in armed or unarmed?

From Houstonia:

Imagine it’s a Saturday afternoon. You stop into Whataburger to pick up lunch with your kids in tow, the only thing on your mind remembering which kid doesn’t want ketchup on his burger, which kid only wants ketchup on his burger, and whether you want to add jalapenõs to your own. You place your order and are pulling out your wallet to pay when a man walks in with a Sig Sauer strapped to his belt. He’s not in any kind of uniform; he’s not wearing a badge. He’s just a guy with his gun, and you’re just a guy with his kids. Are you okay with this scenario? Maybe so. Or maybe you can’t understand why a guy would need to bring his gun into a fast-food restaurant, and you decide to leave without your burgers.

Whataburger has long bet that a good portion of its customers belong to the latter group, hence its company-wide policy against open carry, which has been legal for years in other states where the chain operates, from Arizona to Arkansas. In advance of the new statewide law that goes into effect in Texas this January 1—the much-discussed House Bill 910 that makes Texas the 45th state to allow residents to openly carry and display their handguns—the Corpus Christi–based company recently reiterated that policy.

[…]

The thing is, there’s still a great deal of confusion surrounding the impending changes, as business associations large and small, reluctant to enter the quagmire of gun control politics, have been slow to provide guidance to private entities that may want to ban open carry. (The Greater Houston Restaurant Association didn’t even return Houstonia’s requests for comment.) As a result, getting those signs up in the first place is proving tougher than expected.

And in fact, rules for the necessary signage are complicated. “Business owners that want to ban guns from their property must post a new sign that adheres to strict wording, colors and text size,” says Terry McBurney, president of the Greater Montgomery County Restaurant Association, one of the few restaurant associations to provide assistance in advance of the new gun laws. Those colors, the Texas Department of Public Safety mandates, must be contrasting. The lettering must be block, and at least one-inch high, for maximum legibility, with the notice in both English and Spanish, posted “conspicuously” at the entrance to the business itself. Any sign that isn’t absolutely perfect, down to the letter, will be null and void.

I would note that State Rep. Diego Bernal of San Antonio has taken it upon himself to help businesses who want to opt out on open carry by printing signs that conform to all of the mandated requirements, which he is providing free of charge. Perhaps one or more of our local legislators could follow that example – I’m sure plenty of businesses would appreciate it. Regardless, I wonder how long it will take before some establishments use open carry as a marketing tool, catering to whatever side they think represents a bigger opportunity for them. I feel reasonably confident saying that there will be more than a few establishments in my neighborhood that feature these signs, and that more than a few of them will not be shy about advertising themselves as such. Should be fascinating to watch.

On a tangential matter:

During a panel [recently] addressing Texas’s new open-carry law, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, and City Attorney Donna Edmunson encouraged citizens to ask as many questions as possible.

Mostly, they asked McClelland and Anderson to consider a myriad of hypothetical situations.

For example, many asked, what if you’re just sitting on a bench at a park with your gun in your holster, and some concerned “mad mom” calls the police on you because she and her kids are alarmed by the very presence of your gun? Are the police really going to detain you and ask that you show your CHL even though you’re just sitting on the bench eating a ham sandwich? Isn’t that a bit invasive?

The resounding answer from McClelland and Anderson, to all of the above types of questions, was basically this: we understand your concerns, but you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Chances are, they explained, you’re going to come across a CHL holder openly carrying his or her gun inside of a Walmart, a Taco Bell, a JCPenny (not a Whataburger, which already said it’s not going to allow guns inside). And chances are, for CHL holders, a police officer is going to ask you to show your license once someone’s kids get scared and they call 911, and you’ll just have to comply, because that’s the law—even if you’re just sitting on a bench eating a sandwich.

This is going to be so much fun, isn’t it? There are already plenty of disagreements about what this law means and what if any restrictions can be legally enforced in various places. I suspect the courts are going to be very busy next year, and the Lege will be back to revisit this in 2017.

Houston Zoo reverses its stance on allowing in guns

This was a surprise.

It’s back

The Houston Zoo has reinstalled a series of signs that prohibit the carry of firearms into the gates of the family-friendly attraction almost three months after being forced to take them down at threat of legal action.

Attorney Edwin Walker with Texas Law Shield, a legal services firm for gun owners, sent a demand letter to the Houston Zoo and its corporate entity and the city’s parks and recreation department on Sept. 3 asking that they take down all 30.06 (guns prohibited) signs at the zoo.

The signs came down just a week or so after the letter was received and read.

After the signs came down the zoo staff said that they would be conferring with lawyers to see what the next step should be.

On Tuesday Walker was notified of the zoo’s sign reinstallation and said that he soon plans on taking a complaint to the Office of the Texas Attorney General.

In a statement sent to the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday, Houston Zoo spokesperson Jackie Wallace stated the zoo’s case for bringing the signs back.

“After consultation with legal counsel, the Houston Zoo, Inc. has concluded that Texas government code does not prohibit HZI from lawfully posting signs that ban weapons from its premises because HZI is – at its core – an educational institution,” Wallace wrote Tuesday.

The zoo argues that being an educational institution exempts it from being forced to allow firearms within its gates.

Wallace wrote that the zoo was established for educational and conservation purposes, bringing in some 200,000 children a year.

The zoo, Wallace added, “maintains an Education Department that employs 17 professional educators who develop and deliver educational programming on a daily basis at the Zoo.”

“Given the mission of the zoo and the presence of hundreds of thousands of children on its campus, it is clear that guns and zoos simply do not mix,” Wallace wrote.

“Texas law recognizes that weapons are not compatible with the education of our youth and prohibits weapons at a schools and educational institutions and places where activities sponsored by schools or educational institutions take place,” Wallace concluded, referencing Section 46.03 of the Texas Penal Code.

Walker responded to the statement on Tuesday, calling the signs among other things “provocative.”

“This is a sham,” Walker says. “This is clearly an act of desperation. They are hanging their hat on being an educational institution.”

See here for the background. The original argument, to which the Zoo temporarily acceded, was that since Hermann Park belongs to the city, the zoo counts as a government entity even though it is privately operated, and as a government entity it is required by the new law to allow guns. These fights about where guns may or may not now be restricted are going on all over the state and will be keeping the AG’s office busy for months to come. As the Houston Press noted, the same guy sent a letter to the Dallas Zoo but got a different response from them.

Though the zoo is run by a private nonprofit, it’s owned by the city of Dallas.

Zoo and city officials are adamant that the zoo qualifies as an “amusement park” and an “educational institution” — status that would make the “no guns” signs legal. Edwin Walker, the Houston lawyer, said there is “no way the zoo fits those definitions.”

Now the state attorney general’s office, which has been charged with investigating such complaints, is reviewing the claim to see if legal action is warranted. If the signs are found to be in violation, the city could face fines of up to $10,500 per day.

In the meantime, the Dallas Zoo’s “no guns” signs are staying up.

The “signs prohibiting handgun license holders from bringing concealed handguns into the Dallas Zoo are valid,” wrote David Harper, an attorney representing the zoo. “Therefore, the Dallas Zoo will not be removing those signs.”

[…]

Walker, the Houston lawyer, also filed the grievance against the Houston Zoo. He said his success there caused other gun rights advocates to contact him with similar concerns about the gun prohibition at the Dallas Zoo.

But the Dallas Zoo presents somewhat of a special case, particularly over its standing as an “amusement park.”

The designation typically refers to places like Six Flags Over Texas. But the zoo could potentially meet an eight-point test in state law to qualify. The sticking point appears to be if the zoo’s monorail or other attractions count as “amusement rides.”

That would be “specious at best,” said Walker, who works with Texas Law Shield, an organization that provides legal representation to gun owners.

But Dallas Park and Recreation Director Willis Winters said city officials agree with the zoo’s interpretation.

“The city attorneys are comfortable with it, and we’re glad to let the zoo’s counsel handle any challenges that might come up,” he said.

You can see the correspondence related to this at the link above. Gotta say, the “amusement park” claim seems like a stretch to me, but I suppose it’s possible. If it works, that could be a backup plan for the Houston Zoo. Of course, if it does work – indeed, if any of the current claims are resolved in favor of those who argue for allowing whatever restriction is being challenged – you can be sure the Lege will be back in 2017 to “clarify” the law in a way that obviates the exemption. As I said before, this is the world we live in, and this is how it will be until those who would like to see fewer guns in public places win some elections on that issue. More from the Press here.

Packing heat at the zoo

Yeah, this won’t cause any controversy.

Not any more

Houston Zoo officials have been forced to remove long-standing “no guns” signage from the city-owned property after a prominent gun rights attorney filed a complaint, marking the first visible local example of a new state law that targets government entities illegally restricting concealed carry.

Though the Houston Zoo is operated by a private entity, the Hermann Park land it sits on belongs to the city. Private business owners can restrict gun usage; on most government properties, however, licensed Texans are allowed to carry guns.

Now, under legislation that took effect Sept. 1, residents who believe governments are violating that law have a streamlined and strengthened means to file a complaint locally, with the option of appealing to the Texas attorney general. Local governments risk daily fines of up to $10,000, depending on the number of violations, if they fail to remove signage deemed illegal.

Houston attorney T. Edwin Walker with Texas Law Shield, a gun rights advocacy legal firm, quickly put the law to practice Sept. 3, sending a letter to the city stating the zoo’s “no guns” signs were illegal.

“A week later I get a call from the associate general counsel from the city of Houston that they couldn’t argue with my argument,” Walker said. “There was no getting around it.”

The signs came down Sept. 11, said zoo spokeswoman Jackie Wallace. Since then, zoo and city officials have been “investigating the legal implications of the request” and consulting with other Texas cities, Wallace said. Zoo officials said they’ve long believed the facility qualifies as an educational institution under state law, permitting the gun ban.

The same reasoning has been applied at the privately run but publicly situated Dallas Zoo, where officials are now confronting the same problem. A spokeswoman for the Dallas Zoo did not return requests for comment Monday about what the facility has done with its signs.

In Houston, Wallace said there was “no angst” between the zoo and the city. Both entities were working together to figure out if there were any legal remedies.

“We do recognize that this has the potential to confuse or concern our guests and members,” Wallace said. “And we want to emphasize that this will not alter our number-one priority, which is the safety of our guests, employees and animals.”

The Press talked to T. Edwin Walker:

“I guarantee there is no license holder who is going to go to the zoo in anticipation of shooting a giraffe in front of a bunch of school children,” Walker said in an interview. “The issue is just that this is a place where the government is not allowed to tell people that they can’t carry a licensed handgun. The Texas government has recognized that people have the right to defend themselves. How do they do that? With a gun.”

City crime statistics (and common sense) indicate the Houston Zoo is hardly the most unsafe place in town. It sits in a crime beat that stretches from the Southwest Freeway in the north to Old Spanish Trail in the south, with Main Street and Highway 288 serving as the east and west border, respectively. Since January 2010, 11 murders have been reported in that zone, and none of them happened at the zoo. By comparison, there have been 40 reported murders during the same time in the zone that encompasses Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood.

Still, Walker said he wouldn’t necessarily feel safe and sound at the Houston Zoo without his gun.

“Unfortunately we live in a world where there are people who are intent to do harm unto others,” Walker said. “I don’t want to be punched in the face or stabbed with a knife. We are allowed to be secure in the knowledge that if somebody does attack me, I have the best tool available to defend myself. That tool is a gun.”

I’m not going to bother arguing with those statements, because this is one of those places where facts don’t really matter. I’m just going to say this: I grew up in New York City in the 70s and 80s. Charles Bronson, the Son of Sam, Bernie Goetz, Fort Apache The Bronx, The Warriors – this was the cultural background of my childhood. And yet, I don’t believe I knew anybody while I was growing up who had a gun. They just weren’t part of who we were. To this day, I just don’t understand the mindset expressed here by T. Edwin Walker. It has nothing to do with the relative level of safety and crime that we have here and now versus there and then. I just don’t get it. I’m not making any claims about right and wrong, and I have no argument with the interpretation of the law. As I said, I just don’t get it.

I fully expect there to be some backlash over this, and I support that. This is a political issue, and we didn’t get to this point without one side of that issue aggressively and successfully pursuing its agenda. The folks who don’t like it need to make a lot of noise, and figure out a way to translate that into some wins at the ballot box. But let’s all be honest about a couple of things. It was almost certainly the case that people brought guns into the zoo before last week – it’s been awhile since I was last there, but there were no bag checks or metal detectors at the gate, so anyone could have been packing heat in their purse or shoulder holster. Having a sign may deter some otherwise law-abiding folks, but it’s no deterrent to anyone who wanted to cause a problem. However bizarre it is to someone like me that someone like T. Edwin Walker can’t feel safe at the zoo unless he’s armed, the real problem is that as a country we’re up to our eyeballs in guns and that the sheer number of people killed every day by guns just doesn’t bother a lot of the rest of us, at least not enough to do anything about it. The debate about allowing guns at the Houston Zoo will pass. The bigger issue will be with us for a long time.

Amended campus carry passes

All things considered, this could have been a lot worse.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The Texas Senate took a final vote Saturday to approve legislation requiring the state’s public universities to allow handguns in dorms, classrooms and campus buildings.

Under the latest version of the bill, universities would be able to carve out gun-free zones in locations of their choice — establishing their own rules on where handguns are carried and how they’re stored based on public safety concerns.

Only concealed handgun license holders would be allowed to carry their firearms on campus, and private universities would be allowed to opt out of the requirement all together.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said his legislation would allow for “very limited, reasonable prohibitions” on handguns in certain locations on university property.

He said his intent was that public college campuses would be as “permissive and accessible” as possible to handgun license holders and that universities would be as “specific and as minimalistic as possible” in defining restricted areas.

The measure was approved along party lines with a 20-11 vote, with all of the chamber’s Democrats opposing it.

While acknowledging that the legislation had improved since its original form, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said she still believed it was “just bad policy.”

She expressed concern that handguns would now be permitted in an environment “already fraught with stress and often fragile emotions.”

I agree with Sen. Garcia and neither support this law nor see any reason to change the status quo. That said, I think if a couple of concealed handgun license holders had challenged the existing law in court, asserting their right to have a gun on a public university campus, I feel pretty confident they’d have won, and I’m not sure I’d have liked this hypothetical ruling any more than I like the new law. As far as private universities go, given all of the other things they are allowed to forbid their students from doing or having, allowing them to opt out seems wise. I’m sure there would be a religious freedom argument to be made if, say, a Quaker-affiliated university was required to allow guns on campus. As things now stand, I’d say the best thing to do is lobby the administration and board of trustees of your alma mater and urge them to adopt as tight a policy as possible.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

As of Monday afternoon, a bill repealing the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition rates, had yet to emerge. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick promised while campaigning that he would work to repeal the act. The bill could part of legislation that is reserved for priorities set by the lieutenant governor.

All bills can be seen on the Texas Legislature site. Here’s a list of other noteworthy legislation filed Monday: 

Guns

State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and James White, R-Woodville, filed legislation, House Bill 106 and House Bill 164, respectively, that would allow Texans to openly carry handheld guns. 

House Bill 176, filed by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, would create the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which would say a federal law “that infringes on a law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 23, Article I, Texas Constitution, is invalid and not enforceable in this state.” 

Transportation

Senate Joint Resolution 12 and Senate Bill 139, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would eliminate diversions from the state highway fund to the Department of Public Safety to ensure those funds are only used on road construction. Currently, part of the state highway fund is paying for state highway police. 

Health

Senate Bill 66, filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would require schools to stock EpiPens, and that employees are trained in how to use the medical devices that combat serious allergic reactions.

Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 97, also filed by Hinojosa, would introduce regulations of vapor products, or  e-cigarettes, in Texas. SB 96 prohibits the use of vapor products on school property, while SB 97 would apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products.

House Bill 113, filed by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would make it illegal to perform an abortion based on the sex of the child.

House Bill 116, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. 

Education

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed several higher education related bills. Senate Bill 24 would increase the orientation training for university system regents, while Senate Bill 42 would prevent the governor from appointing a student regent if that person did not submit an application to the university or its student government. Senate Bill 23, also filed by Zaffirini, would make pre-kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds in Texas and make half-day pre-K available to 3-year olds who meet certain at-risk measures.

Senate Bill 150, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would fund 64 construction and renovation projects at higher education institutions across the state. It would cost $2.86 billion.

House Bill 138, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would stop independent school districts from banning schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. 

Voting

House Bill 76, filed by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would allow citizens to register to vote online. 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed three bills in an attempt to increase civic engagement in Texas. Senate Bill 141 would create a voter education program in Texas high schools, Senate Bill 142 would allow deputy registrars to receive their training online, and Senate Bill 143 would notify voters who were rejected while registering of what mistakes they made on their registration forms. 

House Bill 111, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would create same-day voter registration. 

Energy and Environment

Senate Bill 109, filed by Sen.-elect Van Taylor, R-Plano, establishes new deadlines for processing water rights permits in Texas. In a statement on Monday, Taylor said the bill was aimed at bureaucracy that is preventing parts of North Texas from accessing water.

House Bill 224, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the “Texas Energy Resources Commission.” Similar legislation has failed in the past.

Other

House Bill 55, filed by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, would allow money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to go to veterans hospitals in the state. The Texas Enterprise Fund became embroiled in controversy this past election season, when it was revealed that several recipients of the fund never formally submitted applications.

House Bill 92, filed by Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would change the legal definition of an “illegal knife.” 

House Bill 150, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would nix daylight savings time in Texas.

House Bill 161, filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would allow counties to house prisoners in tents.  

There’s plenty more, some good, some bad, some bat$#!+ crazy, some blatantly unconstitutional, many with no hope of ever getting a committee hearing. As always, I’ll do what I can to keep track of ’em as we go. The Chron, Stace, Grits, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

Calling to add to the call

The special session is just a day old, and already legislators are lining up to extend its agenda to cover things that didn’t get done during regulation time.

snl-church-lady-special

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, have filed a resolution that would ask voters to approve diverting some of the revenue that traditionally goes to the state’s savings account into the state’s highway fund.

“We’ve talked to Perry’s office about it,” Williams said. “They like it. I think they’ll be very supportive of it.”

Last week, days before the end of the regular session, Williams proposed the same plan to House budget leaders, who were not receptive to considering it so late in the session.

Williams is now hopeful that Perry will add the issue to a special session agenda that so far only covers redistricting issues. At a news conference Tuesday, Perry did not rule out adding other issues to the special session agenda.

“Unlike water for the last decade, we have addressed transportation, so there’s been some important movement in the transportation side,” Perry said. “Is it enough, from my perspective? No, but, again, I think it’s a little bit premature, with less than 24 hours since we’ve called this special, to be addressing whether we’re going to be adding anything to the call or not.”

Transportation funding was one of those issues that just sort of went away at the end of the session, as there was no consensus on how to proceed. I’m skeptical that Perry will accept the use of Rainy Day funds for this purpose, even if ratified by the voters, and I’m even more skeptical that the teabagger contingent will go for it, but of all the things that could be added to the call of this session, that would be among the more constructive items. Among the less constructive items are bills that have been re-filed for more guns and fewer abortions. Perry isn’t saying yet what if anything else he might add to the call, but as I’ve said before, it’s hard to see how going full metal wingnut hurts him.

So for now at least, the special session is limited to redistricting, and in particular to passing bills to make the interim maps permanent. That hasn’t stopped Democrats from filing their own redistricting plans, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to have a hearing. As with the existence of this session, filing these maps is about the ongoing litigation. Via BOR, Rep. Garnet Coleman sums it up:

“Governor Perry has called us back into special session in order to adopt the interim maps as the permanent maps for the State of Texas.

Based on the narrowness of the Governor’s call, no alternative plans may be considered. The interim maps were clearly intended to be only temporary so that the state of Texas could hold elections; they were not intended to address all of the Legislature’s failures in adhering to the Voting Rights Act under Sections 2 and 5.

House Committee Hearings on the interim maps are set for this Friday and Saturday, which is not enough notice to allow the public to provide adequate testimony on the interim maps. Even if this were enough time, the narrowness of the Governor’s call means that publicly requested changes could not be adopted, effectively shutting out the opinions of Texas citizens.

The San Antonio three-judge panel has previously shown with plan H302 that they are able to draw maps that adhere to Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act and allow for adequate minority representation. I am going to file this plan as a demonstration that an alternative plan can be drawn that satisfies the Voting Rights Act. I shall file an additional plan later this week that will also accomplish these goals.

During the first call of the special session of the Legislature, members of color will once again demonstrate that the Texas Legislature is pursuing a course to deny effective representation of racial and ethnic minorities and communities of interest.”

The San Antonio court will once again have its hands full, and not much time to deal with all the issues before them. June is going to be a hell of a month.

Guest post: Gun control realities and fallacies; is there a way forward?

Note: The following is a guest post, written by regular reader Peter in Houston. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, but he makes some good and provocative points, and I’m a believer in having thorough discussions of complex issues, so I present this here for your consideration.

I have been a gun owner for the past 25 years. I live in a large metro area, and I own guns in defensive calibers for personal protection. I have had a State Concealed Handgun License for the past 14 years, and I do carry a firearm in public. I also enjoy casual target “plinking” with a .22LR pistol. Over a decade ago, I had the privilege of participating in an advanced tactical classes for civilians, where I learned a great deal about personal protection, and experienced a small sampling of what our police officers experience. We practiced topics like drawing from concealment while moving to cover, engaging multiple targets, shooting from awkward positions, shooting in low-light and no-light, and other defensive skills, firing hundreds of rounds in the process. Do you know how much your hand can hurt after firing hundreds of rounds? Ammo sitting in the summer Texas sun also gets very hot, ow ow. We donned body armor and went through live-fire scenarios with extremely low power paintball-type ammunition fired out of real handguns; we role-played simulated home invasions, convenience store robberies, clearing a home which has an invader hiding somewhere, and hand-to-hand combat. My most amusing moment was being gob-smacked with a Nerf bat. I was also “shot” in the chest out of spite after I gave up the money. These are my qualifications as an intermediate-to-advanced civilian gun owner.

You might think I would be the type of person who believes in no gun control, but I do believe there are areas where Federal guns laws can be improved. For one, I don’t see a compelling reason why the average gun owner needs more then ten rounds in their weapon. I myself carry an old-school five-shot revolver, Sgt. Joe Friday / Dragnet style.

Supposedly, just drawing a gun ends the violent encounter in most cases. When shots are fired, it’s usually decided after two or three shots. So I think five is OK, and I do carry one or two reloading strips for a total of ten or fifteen rounds, though these are very slow to deploy. So why would I settle for only five at a time? Revolvers are quite reliable; I have seen many people at the range struggle with semi-automatic jams. I would rather have five rounds with near 100% certainty than have to clear a jam after the first round. Plus, I like being different, and I like the retro aesthetic of a revolver.

Most pistols purpose-built for concealed carry have about a ten round capacity by design, because they are meant to be small. Therefore, why the uproar about a limit of ten? Because semi-automatic weapons are fast to reload, you can carry on an effective defense with ten round magazines. You just do a “tactical reload” during a lull in the fighting, so that you’re always full. Of course, it helps if the juvenile John Connor is your child, because he will be highly skilled in recharging empty magazines. In the movie Terminator 2, Sarah Connor was firing an eight round .45 pistol. I never hear .45 owners complaining that their pistols don’t hold enough ammo.

However… if someone simply must have a 20, 30, or 100 round magazine, let them have them; but we could change the law so that to get these magazines you have to possess a Federal Class III license. I would like to see existing magazines grandfathered to current owners and their immediate family members only; beyond that, they could only be transferred to a Class III licensee, or turned in to a buyback program. Class III licensure is quite stringent. If you get one, you can own a real machine gun. Machine gun as in Al Capone. That’s a high level of trust.

There is a problem in that Federal law allows private party sales. I think these should be outlawed, and all gun buyers should go through the National Instant Check System (NICS), with a few exceptions, for example, transfers amongst immediate family members should be allowed. Interfamilial transfers didn’t help Nancy Lanza, but I have the suspicion the “transfer” in her case was involuntary.

I am not an expert in this area, so I don’t know the exact details about how to get someone adjudicated so that they get into the NICS database as a bad actor, but maybe we need to look at how to make that process easier and faster.

To summarize my concrete suggestions for gun control that could make a difference over a span of years (not overnight), which I am positive the NRA would oppose:

  1. 10+ round magazine ban, except for Class III licensees; existing magazines grandfathered to current owners and their immediate family members
  2. Reform NICS to get more nutcases and bad actors into the database
  3. No more private sales or transfers, except between immediate family members

Now it’s my turn to rip into some of the ideas that merge from the gun control crowd. Gun control activists are purposefully very imprecise in their language and definitions concerning firearms; they want to create large, all-inclusive categories of guns, then they want the public to want them all gone.

First of all, let’s get something clear. The AR-15 used at Newtown, as destructive as it was, and as horrifying the results of its use were, is not an assault weapon. Assault weapons are fully automatic machine guns. The AR-15 is a “pull the trigger once / fire one round” semi-automatic gun. It is not a machine gun. It is not an automatic gun. Machines guns have been illegal since 1934, unless you have the aforementioned Class III license. But advocates want you to think it’s an assault weapon, because “assault weapon” performs well in focus groups.

The gun control advocates want you to hate the AR-15 so much that you will tell your Member of Congress to ban it! What really threatens gun owners is that the AR-15 is functionally no different from most other rifles in existence today. They may have cozy wood stocks rather than scary black stocks and pistol grips; but they are functionally the same, firing the same .223 caliber round, or an even bigger one.

Even the President says, “We must ban military-style assault rifles”. Wow, what a pile of obfuscations there. But once we ban a demonized class of guns, then their non military-styled cousins are also toast, because they are functionally identical.

This is a hard reality to speak about; yes, the wounds inflicted by the .223 bullet on children were horrific. But the reality is, there are much more powerful rifle rounds available; the .308, the .30-06. The political reality is this – the voices that claim “no private citizen should own a gun with as much power one used in Sandy Hook”, are really saying this:

NO PRIVATE CITIZEN SHOULD OWN ANY RIFLE!

Basically, the only rifle left after a hypothetical ban of .223 caliber above would be the little .22LR youth camp rifle. Gun owners aren’t stupid. The non-shooting public, the mass media, and some politicians get led around by the rhetoric and emotion, but it’s all painfully transparent to gun owners. They realize that calls for “sensible gun control” might really translate, after the legislative sausage is made in the back rooms, to near-total gun elimination. That’s why the public resistance to gun control is so profound, and why the public polling on guns hasn’t changed much since Sandy Hook (as reported on NPR, Dec 20, 2012).

What guns owners have seen the gun control activists do, which also makes us very concerned, is that they pivot from gun type to gun type. They know they can’t get everything banned in one fell swoop, so they try legislative incrementalism. “Sensible gun control” at one time meant “Ban Saturday Night Specials”. Remember Saturday Night Specials? “We need to ban Saturday Night Specials and other highly concealable guns which have no utility for target shooting or hunting, their only purpose is to kill people”. That was the mantra many years ago, when I went to college in 1979.

Well now, people are calling for the ban of exactly those firearms which do have utility for target shooting or hunting, rifles in .223 caliber and above. So which is it? Obviously, they want both banned. They want everything banned. The gun control advocates try to sound reasonable, and they spin it well, they try to demonize one type of gun or another at different times, and it’s different guns in different decades, too. A few years ago, they trial-ballooned that “shotguns are a weapon of mass destruction because they shoot dozens of projectiles simultaneously”. Oh gosh, so much worse than a machine gun even! That particular trial balloon sank, but it goes to show – they want everything banned. Rifles, shotguns, and handguns comprise all guns.

In the gun control world, “some guns are too big, some guns are too small, and really no guns are just right”.

I think there is a real though completely ironic parallel between gun control activists and pro-lifers. The pro-lifers don’t want abortion restricted; they want abortion illegal. If they can’t make it illegal, they will practice legislative incrementalism, and pass laws to harass women out of their minds, for example, to force the State to make trans-vaginal sonograms part of “pre-abortion counseling”. So it is with the gun control lobby. They want to stick it into the privates of gun owners. But we know it’s coming, and we say no. We can read between the lines; we’re not stupid.

Neither should the 80 million gun owners and ammunition users be taxed for the misdeeds of a very few. There are roughly 11,000 gun murders in the USA each year, but that means 99.98625% of gun owners didn’t do it; so don’t punitively tax gun and ammunition purchases. They shouldn’t be covered by “sin taxes”, because it’s in the Bill of Rights! How can an explicitly enumerated civil right be treated as a sin? That’s just illogical.

My assessment is that there is some room to make progress in refining and strengthening gun laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands, while protecting the rights of legal users, but the gun activist lobby will get the big eyes and overreach, they will try to get too much instead of what is possible and acceptable to the majority, and the GOP controlled House will kill any bills. And we’ll be stuck where we’ve been for decades.

It’s a mistake for gun control activists to think that gun owners are a dying breed, all old white men. I’m not an old white man. My nearest neighbor who shoots is a woman – who attended a Quaker college, of all things. Eighty million Americans own guns. That’s a huge number of people, who if they get directly threatened, will react by becoming politically active. And gun owners aren’t all Republicans.

By all means, let’s have a conversation about legislative firearms changes that are feasible and Constitutional, yet protect the core values of all stakeholders.

Speaking of the Constitution, SCOTUS has reaffirmed that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, not only a collective right (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008). Look it up! It’s your Bill of Rights.

This is Charles again. My thanks to Peter for sending this. After receiving it, Harold Cook made a similar argument on his blog, which I recommend you read as well. Also, to address Peter’s point about terminology, I recommend MoJo’s A Non-Gun-Owner’s Guide To Guns. At the very least, we should all be clear on what it is we are and are not talking about.

On school shootings

I have four things to say about this.

In the national collective grief rising from Friday’s mass shooting in Connecticut, one apparent trust seems to have completely shattered: that an elementary school was sacred and safe ground.

Left in the wake of 20 children and eight adults massacred by a lone gunman is a renewed debate over how secure should schools be and at what cost. Closer to home at least one teacher’s union is now calling for more armed guards on Houston school campuses.

Several local school districts acknowledged they focus their full-time security staff on high school and middle school campuses and only send patrols to elementary schools. They said it was too early to say if that strategy would be changed or if there was money to pay for it.

Other officials and experts questioned the expense of providing enough security – the kind that could turn a school into a virtual fortress – to repel a heavily-armed intruder.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers union, said she favors placing more armed police officers in schools, even on elementary campuses. It’s a proposition she recognizes would be “very expensive.”

“We really need more security,” she said. “You never know what nutcase is suddenly going to decide that shooting up the local school is a good idea.”

Fallon, however, said she does not support arming teachers with pistols, as a small school district in Harrold, Texas, did in 2008, drawing national attention.

[…]

HISD spokesman Jason Spencer noted HISD has 279 campuses, and only 200 full-time officers who are assigned to high schools, middle schools and secondary school campuses. HISD officers patrol the elementary schools.

“We don’t have enough officers to have one stationed full time at each campus,” Spencer said. “We do the best we can with the resources we have.”

1. What does it say about us as a society that we are talking about the benefits of having armed guards stand over our children? I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s not what I want for my kids.

2. For those like Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who do believe that having armed guards in place is the key to preventing this kind of violence, I’d like for you to please explain the Fort Hood shooting to me. (Patterson conveniently omitted that tragedy from the list he gave in support of his argument.) Surely the problem there was not the lack of armed and trained personnel in the vicinity.

3. After cutting $5.4 billion from public education in 2011 and causing the layoff of thousands of teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses, support staff, bus drivers, and God knows who else, we’re going to find the money to hire thousands of armed security guards? Seriously?

4. If we really want to do something constructive, and spend our money in a way that might actually help the problem, then let’s finally get serious about mental health in this country. Right now, it’s far easier to buy an assault weapon than it is to access mental health services, and the latter is much more expensive if you can get it. I hope we can all agree this is a problem.

Actually, I have five things to say: Screw Mike Huckabee. That is all.

Steve Brown: The Grown-Up’s Platform

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Steve Brown

Texas Democrats recently adopted a very progressive platform that addresses critical areas of need in our state. It also gives reasonable, mature Texans an alternative to empty ideological rhetoric.

Although most headlines will center on our bold pronouncements in support of marriage equality, abolishing the death penalty and decriminalizing marijuana (and rightly so), there are a number of other policy proposals worth mentioning as well.

In addition to the familiar themes related to fully funding public education and supporting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (health care reform), Texas Democrats also raised numerous emerging issues as additional items in need of public support and legislative action.

State Budget Policy

Texas Democrats support sensible solutions for fixing the state’s multi-billion dollar structural deficit. We need to modernize our tax base so that it reflects our service-oriented economy. What state lawmakers shouldn’t do, however, is continue to dodge responsibility by punting the costs of services to local governments and taxpayers. Cuts to education, health care and transportation may sound appealing to Tea Party activists, but the truth is that these services are still being rendered at local taxpayer’s expense – an expense that’s more costly and less efficient than if it were addressed at the state level.

Texas’ Impending Water Crisis

Due in large part to recent droughts and population growth, Texas’ towns are literally drying up. We need practical, sustainable solutions to ensure that we have enough water to meet the needs of our people, businesses and agricultural enterprises. In fact, we recommend that the Governor elevate this issue to an emergency item at the start of next session, and identify the funding sources to cover the capital costs associated with creating new water management strategies. Failure to meet our water supply could result in catastrophic human and economic losses.

Smokefree Workplaces

Texas Democrats support the need for a comprehensive statewide smokefree law as a top public health priority. We recognize that prevailing science indicates that secondhand smoke causes preventable diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancer. Additionally, the health care costs associated with treating these diseases bear an enormous burden on taxpayers and businesses. It’s time to clear Texas’ indoor air.

Castle Doctrine

In the wake of several incidents, sufficient doubt has been raised as to whether the Castle Doctrine actually is being applied fairly. Texas Democrats urge lawmakers to modify its “Stand Your Ground” law to help prevent vigilantism and encourage neighborhood watch groups to work collaboratively with local law enforcement agencies.

Transportation

We recognize that we can’t simply build more roads or toll roads to adequately address the state’s transportation infrastructural needs. Texas simply needs more multi-modal options. Its time for the state to invest in light rail, and partner with communities across Texas to create more transportation options. Such investment will help enhance quality of life, attract a vibrant business environment, improve air quality and leverage federal funding opportunities.

These are but a small sample of the priorities identified in the Democratic platform. Texas Democrats understand that it takes a strenuous, reasonable assessment of the true challenges facing our state to ensure that Texas is as great today as it will be fifty years from now. That means that we have to elevate the seriousness of public debate and elect leaders more interested in long-term, sustainable solutions and not regurgitated ideology.

The grown-ups in Texas will find much to agree with in the Democratic Party’s platform.

Steve Brown is the Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and a member of the Texas Democratic Party’s Platform Advisory Committee. Connect with Steve on Facebook at facebook.com/sbrown2 and on Twitter at twitter.com/electstevebrown.

Amending the Texas “Stand Your Ground” law

I agree with this.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said Texas needs to revise its law to prevent a tragedy such as the Trayvon Martin case in Florida from happening here.

This state’s current law is not that different from the so-called Stand Your Ground law used in Florida. Under current law in the Lone Star State, a person is justified in using deadly force in self-defense or if someone is unlawfully and with force trying to enter their home, business or vehicle or is in the act of committing murder, kidnapping, rape or robbery.

The current law took its shape in 2007, and used a model that had passed in Florida and 14 other states. What changed is that the Texas Legislature removed a provision that said people have a duty to retreat if faced with a potentially violent situation. The old law also said that citizens had the right to use deadly force to protect themselves, others or their property but only if there was no avenue for escape.

Coleman, who voted against the change five years ago, said it’s time to dial back the Texas law to its pre-2007 status. He said a duty to retreat could have prevented what happened in Florida when a neighborhood watch volunteer confronted an unarmed teenager and ended up shooting him.

Rep. Coleman expanded on that on his site.

The Texas Castle Doctrine too freely gives license to use deadly force based on subjective assumptions and needs to be corrected. In 2007, when the Legislature eliminated the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense, the likelihood of killing someone simply because they were presumed to be dangerous was increased. Now Texans can justify the use of deadly force based on perceived danger almost anywhere and not just at home— in their cars on public roads, the workplace, and essentially anywhere they are not trespassing and lawfully allowed to be on that property. What was passed in 2007 was unnecessary, and I voted against it. Texas law already allowed people to defend themselves against deadly force with deadly force if they were unable to run away and escape danger. I will file legislation that returns Texas law to a balance that values human life, avoids violence when possible, and preserves the right to self-defense in clear situations of immediate life-threatening danger.

Coleman sent out an email announcing this as well, which included this link to the House Research Organization’s bill analysis of SB378. I note that one of the people who testified against the bill in the House committee hearing was Bill Delmore from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. I believe that this extension of Texas’ Castle Doctrine was unnecessary, and now that we have clearly seen the potential consequences, it’s time to rethink it. I hope Rep. Coleman’s colleagues in the Lege listen to him. The Chron has more.

Metal detectors at the Capitol

After the gunfire incident at the Capitol last week, you’d think this wouldn’t be too controversial.

The day after a shooting outside the state Capitol, lawmakers on Friday suggested that metal detectors to the building entrances were imminent, a move Gov. Rick Perry suggested he would not likely support.

“I’m always up for looking at new ways to protect our citizens, but the last thing I want is for the Texas Capitol to turn into DFW Airport,” Perry said Friday after accepting endorsements by the Texas State Rifle Association and National Rifle Association.

[…]

Detectors at the entrances were being considered even before the shooting, said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Senate Administration Committee.

“One of the things that we need to do is a better job of checking people before they actually get into the building,” Williams said Friday. “It’s an unfortunate part of the world that we live in. ”

Sen. Dan Patrick, whose office was visited by the gunman before the incident, and who creeped out his staff enough to make them alert the cops, expressed similar sentiments as well. Neither of them is an advocate for gun control, so I’m not sure what Governor Perry’s concern is. I mean, courts across the country have metal detectors because of an outbreak of courtroom shootings, of which Ellie Nesler was probably the most notorious. You can’t get into Houston’s City Hall without passing through a metal detector. It’s not exactly a revelation that people who pack delusions, grudges, and weapons will be drawn to government buildings, and it’s not a radical idea to think that maybe we should do something to stop them before they get inside. I suspect this is a fight the Governor will lose.

RIP, statewide smoking ban

I thought it still had a chance after it finally passed out of committee in the Senate, but the statewide smoking ban is officially dead.

[State Sen. Rodney] Ellis held a press conference to announce the death of the statewide smoking ban in public facilities and indoor workplaces after it failed to get enough Senate support.

The announcement comes at the end of a dramatic last minute push over the last two days by Ellis and others, notably Rep. Carol Alvarado who got one bended knee and pleaded with Sen. Mario Gallegos to change his “no” vote. “If you watch the tape you’ll either think I’m a dancer or I was working votes,” said Ellis. “I can assure you, I had very little to dance about.”

Yesterday, Ellis said he was at 20 votes in the Senate, just one short of the 21 needed to bring a bill to the floor. But, things changed between the end of yesterday’s floor session and this morning. “Some of the amendments that I was inclined to take [yesterday] became even more Draconian overnight,” he said. Ellis opted to end the fight rather than “gut the bill to the point where it’s almost meaningless.”

Advocacy groups like Smoke Free Texas vows to continue their fight as they look forward to the 2011 session. “Two years from now, when the Legislature returns,” Smoke Free Texas member and government relations director for the Texas High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society James Gray said in a statement, “more states will be smoke-free, more Texas communities will have passed local moke-free ordinances – and thousands more Texans will be ill or dead from secondhand smoke exposure.”

I thought this was the year for the statewide smoking ban, but it wasn’t to be. It did get farther than last time, so you have to like its chances in 2011. Better luck then, y’all. A statement from Sen. Ellis about this is beneath the fold.

Meanwhile, in other legislative news and notes:

– The handguns-on-campus bill gets new life in the Senate after an identical House bill had been declared dead. I can’t say I’m crazy about this, but given that private schools can opt out, I’m not too worked up about it. I thought at the time of its passage that the original concealed-carry law would be a disaster, and that has not proven to be the case. I suspect in the end this will not be any different. This still has to pass the House, however, and as Floor Pass notes, it may run out of time before that happens.

– Congratulations! It’s a bouncing new state agency.

The Texas Senate, GOP-controlled and usually advocating smaller government, voted this afternoon to create a new state agency — the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles — to help streamline vehicle registrations in the state.

Earlier approved by the House, the measure includes only a transfer of registrations and three other functions from the Texas Department of Transportation.

It does not include vehicle inspection and driver licensing, which legislative leaders had earlier threatened to strip from the embattled Texas Department of Public Safety.

“Maintaining these functions under the TxDOT umbrella does not allow that agency to focus on its core mission” of building and maintaining Texas’ transportation system,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of the measure. “By separating these functions into a new agency, we can more rapidly automate the process.”

In addition to the Vehicle Title and Registration Division, the new agency will include the Motor Carrier Division, the Automobile and Vehicle Theft Prevention Division and and Motor Vehicle Division, Corona said. It will not include a transfer of overweight permits.

I thought this was a good idea when I first heard about it. I still do.

– Sen. Patrick’s slightly-watered down sonogram bill got somewhat undiluted in the House State Affairs committee. If we’re lucky, that will make it too rich to pass the Senate again.

HCR50, the states-rights resolution that Governor Perry embraced for the teabagging demonstrations, got derailed, at least for now, on a point of order.

– That burning smell you might have detected earlier today was TxDOT getting grilled by the House over HB300.

– A lot of good environmental bills are still alive.

– When you make a mistake, and you admit you’ve made a mistake, you try to fix it, right? Well, then you’re not the Texas Railroad Commission, which needs for the Lege to clean up after itself.

– And finally, it’s probably a bad idea to imply that your primary opponent’s supporters are somehow akin to prostitutes. Eileen explains. No, that’s not legislative in nature, but I couldn’t pass it up.

(more…)

No open carry

The “Open Carry” movement, which was advocating for a change to Texas’ concealed carry law to allow guns to be worn in plain view, appears to have failed as no bill was filed to achieve this end.

[A]fter months lobbying the Legislature, members of the grassroots gun group [OpenCarry.org] have conceded that they could not persuade any Texas lawmaker to file open carry legislation this session, said Ian McCarthy, a student who chairs the Texas Open Carry Work Group.

“I’ve been calling, meeting, doing everything but nobody wants to introduce it,” he said.

It’s not as if there wasn’t ample interest among lawmakers, McCarthy said, but “most of them are just loaded down with so many bills they’ve already introduced.”

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, whom the open carry folks tagged months ago as the bills presumptive sponsor, had the legislation drafted but never introduced it. Her chief of staff explained to open carry members in an email that such legislation was unlikely to pass and that talks of an open carry proposal have already caused difficulties for other Second Amendments bills.

I find this more than a little surprising, but as had been noted before, this may have been a bit of a turf battle.

In the roughly six months since the group started fundraising through online donations to pay for radio spots, billboards and advertising on taxi’s across Texas, they apparently did little to gain favor with the gun lobby.

The Texas State Rifle Association, a state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, never publicly supported the proposal, saying instead they were focusing this session on their current agenda, which did not include open carry. Ultimately, the lack of support from the influential gun lobby could have doomed the group’s efforts to get a bill introduced, open carry members opined on their forums.

I have a hard time believing that a bill like this can’t get passed in Texas. But it’ll have to wait till next session.

Big (gun)man on campus

Did you ever wish you could pack heat on a college campus? Maybe someday soon, you’ll be able to.

Michael Guzman, a 25-year-old Texas State University senior and Marine veteran, takes his Kimber Ultra Carry II handgun just about everywhere he goes. Except to school.

Texas lawmakers, how­ever, are crafting ways to allow licensed handgun owners to tote their guns more easily. One proposal would let guns be carried on campuses, and another would allow licensed handgun owners to openly brandish their guns in public.

Together, the two issues are likely to be the most contentious gun-related laws of the session.

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is preparing the campus concealed-carry gun measure. He calls it a “safety protection bill” for students and faculty.

“I don’t want to wake up one morning and hear on the news that some madman went on a Texas campus and picked off Texas students like sitting ducks,” Wentworth said. “I’m doing what I can to prevent that from happening in Texas.”

Yes, we wouldn’t want to discourage anyone’s John McClane fantasies. Jokes aside, I don’t as yet see any bill authored by Sen. Wentworth that addresses this, so I can’t really say much more than that, but I do have a question: Is this only intended for public universities, or for all of them, public and private? I can see the justification for the former, but if it’s the latter, should the state be imposing on them like this? Private universities restrict a number of otherwise-legal things their students can do – I don’t see why this shouldn’t be one of them. There may be constitutional issues as well – what if there’s a religious school that bans guns because it considers them to be sinful? Like I said, I don’t see a bill yet, but that will be something to look for.

As for the other issue:

At present, people with handgun permits have to keep their weapons concealed.

Ian McCarthy, a 22-year-old online marketing entrepreneur in Austin, wants to be able to brandish one openly.

“Criminals want an easy target. When they see you can fight back, they’re going to go somewhere else,” McCarthy said.

He is a member of the national pro-gun group OpenCarry.org, which has raised more than $10,000 online to buy radio and billboard ads across the state and has collected more than 53,000 online Texas signatures in favor of changing the law.

I’ve already said that I’m supportive of this effort, but I still can’t read about it without thinking of something Molly Ivins wrote way back when the concealed-carry law was being debated. She suggested that everyone who was carrying be required to wear a propeller beanie so the rest of us would know who we’re dealing with. You could say this would have the same effect.

On a side note, I see that the two groups mentioned in this story are working at cross-purposes. That ought to add an interesting angle to the debates.