Police, firearms instructor share views on proposed open carry gun legislation

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By SHELLY WILKISON

As the Texas Legislature considers proposals that would allow licensed gun owners to openly carry their weapons in public, law enforcement and firearms training instructors say they are concerned for the safety of the inexperienced gun owners.

Earlier this week, the Texas Senate voted 20-11 to pass SB 17 and it now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. If finally passed, the bill will allow those with concealed weapon permits to openly carry holstered handguns. During a lengthy Senate debate Monday, dozens of amendments were offered to the bill calling for increased training, background checks and additional handgun licensing requirements. Most of the amendments failed along party lines as Democrats attempted to put opponents of the open carry idea at ease.

In Liberty Hill, Police Chief Randy Williams and Judith Baker, owner of A Texas Girl’s Guns, say their primary concerns involve the safety of the gun owner, who in many cases is not trained for the increased level of risk that open carry brings.

“My main concern is that a person shouldn’t have a gun if they aren’t prepared to use it,” said Chief Williams. “You have to be prepared to keep your gun and fight for it.”

With the firearm in open view, the risks are great that someone else “will try to use it against you or the public. There will be criminals who take advantage of that. A $1,000-$1,500 gun on your hip is a more valuable target (for a thief). It’s better to get that than to snatch a purse.”

Baker, an experienced firearms trainer who began her career more than a decade ago as a handgun instructor for active-duty military personnel, is certified by Texas Department of Public Safety to teach the Texas Concealed Handgun License course. It is one of many courses taught by Baker and her husband, Dennis Baker, both NRA-certified instructors.

While the Liberty Hill gun shop sells a variety of weapons and ammunition, firearm safety and training is at the heart of the business.

“The person who openly carries can and will be a target,” she said. “If you open carry and I am concealed, you will be the target.

“Criminals look for guns, and they look for easy targets,” she added. She said many elderly Texans have licenses to carry a concealed weapon, but if they begin carrying it in a holster visible to all, they might not have the physical strength or training to keep it secure.

Baker, who teaches a CHL class, said the course only provides attendees with information regarding where and when they can carry a concealed weapon. Training on how to use the weapon is not part of the state-sanctioned course.

“The state assumes that you already have training and know how to use a gun before you get the license,” she said.

Baker said it isn’t uncommon for CHL carriers to claim that they are fully trained to use the gun because they have the license.

She said that false sense of security could turn into a dangerous situation for those who decide to openly carry a gun should the bill pass.

“Some are of the mindset that the little plastic card (CHL) puts a magic layer of protection around the body and equips them to protect their familiy,” she said. “But a license means a law-abiding citizen passed a ridiculously simple proficiency test that tells them where and when not to carry.”

Baker said proficiency with a weapon means more than shooting at a still target.

Williams agrees that continuous training with a firearm is critical, and knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot is the never-ending challenge for police officers. He said scenario training should be part of firearms instruction for civilians as well.

He said if the legislation passes, law enforcement officers could face an increased risk at crime scenes. If multiple people are carrying a weapon, it will be more difficult to determine the bad actors.

Baker said responsible gun owners should prefer to conceal their weapons for their own safety. While she carries her pistol in plain view on her hip while in her gun store, she doesn’t want people to see her weapon in public.

“But I’m open minded. I don’t know everything,” she said in reference to the pros and cons of open carry legislation.

So in recent days, Baker said she has been polling her customers on the issue. She said the opinions were divided.

“Several said they wanted to look cool. One in his late 60s said he wanted to look like John Wayne,” she said.

But perhaps the most reasoned response came from a woman who said she supported the bill because she would no longer be breaking the law if her concealed weapon became accidently exposed.

Baker said carrying a concealed weapon on your person is a challenge with certain types of clothing.

“An accidental showing could cause a ruckus and lead to police being called,” she said.

Chief Williams said if the bill is passed, he expects an increased call volume to police.

“We will get calls saying there is a suspicious person acting suspicious with a gun,” he said. “And we can’t just discount those calls. Each one has to be investigated.”

Williams predicted that if the bill should pass, the initial months will be difficult, but the interest will fade.

“The first surge will be curious like the gunslinger days. Everyone will have western holsters, but they will get tired of it,” he said.

Williams said he also anticipates some confrontations and confusion between gun owners and private businesses regarding a business’ right to prohibit displayed weapons.

Another bill, SB 11, is on its way to the House after passing the Senate Wednesday by the same party-line vote, 20-11 with Democrats voting no. That legislation would require public colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns on campus — a proposal that was opposed by a large number of Texas higher education officials.

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