Pilates, Target & Handguns: Living With Open-Carry In Texas

Photo: Eric Gay/AP Photo.
I grew up in Texas. There were always guns in our house, although I didn't know how many, where they were, or how to shoot one. Basically, every man I knew, of all ages, hunted — or at the very least shot at the raccoons in the backyard. But when open carry laws went into effect on January 1, everyone with a licensed firearm was allowed to carry them around on their person while running errands, eating out, or just walking down the street. It's one thing to know people have guns and quite another to see someone with a gun strapped to his waist. There's something much more in-your-face about a gun in an urban setting than one on a deer lease. What's interesting is how easy it will be for me to avoid guns, despite the open carry law, if I don't want to be around them. Since the law allows any private establishment to post a sign stating that open carry guns aren't allowed, I can easily choose to only patronize businesses that ban open carry. All the major grocery chains — except Kroger — are enforcing the ban, so I'll happily take my business to Trader Joe's and HEB instead. I can eat Whataburger, shop at Target, drop into Starbucks, and do Pilates at my local studio without seeing a gun, as they're all enforcing the ban or asking customers not to carry in their stores, which I'm happy to know. As far as small businesses go, I think my life is made easier by being a woman. Many of the places I go with any degree of regularity are run by women, patronized by women, and welcome children, and therefore are unlikely to allow open carry. The real battle to avoid guns in my life, it seems, will be at restaurants. Texas is full of delicious hole-in-the-wall spots, mostly family-owned, where you can get Tex-Mex, barbecue, and chicken-fried steak. In fact, my aunt runs a restaurant in a small, lake resort town in East Texas, where the house specialty is hand-cut chicken-fried steak, so this hits close to home. When I ask my aunt about it, she says she hasn't yet posted the signs to ban open carry, but she plans to because she doesn't want the customers or waitstaff to feel uncomfortable at the sight of some person walking in with a gun. "It's one thing when a police officer does it, but something else when it's just a person with a gun," she says. Then, she tells me about a shooting at the gas station down the street that happened last year and shook up the whole community. It was just a random madman with a gun, and the lone female police officer on the small town's force ended up shooting him to stop his rampage. This year, it would be perfectly legal for that madman to brandish a gun if he wanted to. It's more than uncomfortable to see someone with a gun simply out in public. It's scary. I always wonder why they think they need it. Is it less safe to shop in TJ Maxx than I thought? What happens if that person sees me as a threat? Do they even know how to operate a gun? Texas requires four to six hours of training for first-time applicants to obtain a license to carry a handgun. You also have to pass background check that is meant to preclude anyone with a felony conviction, certain chemical dependencies, or who are considered mentally incompetent. It doesn't screen for people who have a bad day or simply decide to take the law into their own hands and can, because they've got a gun on them. That makes me nervous. Texans aren't known to be wallflowers. I'm genuinely scared of being caught in the crossfire between an armed bystander who means well and a crime. I wonder: If small business owners are asking themselves how comfortable their customers will be with guns out in plain sight while they shop or eat, isn't open carry more of a hindrance than a convenience? By law, Texas also bans open carry at schools, hospitals, nursing homes, sporting events, and airport security checkpoints. Many major chains are banning it. So that leaves...what, open carry in the streets and parks? What point could that possibly serve, other than intimidating fellow citizens? It seems to be a way for people who are looking for trouble to find it, faster.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Texas did not require training in order to obtain a license to obtain a handgun.

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