Remember what your Mom taught you about flies, honey and vinegar?
No issue in recent legislative history has generated as much emotion and acrimony as has open-carry. Generally speaking, there are three identifiable groups of people with a stake in the outcome of the legislative efforts to pass open-carry. Those groups will be identified, but it is necessary to first define the two different forms of open-carry legislation being considered in the 2015 Texas Legislative Session.
“Licensed open-carry” refers to bills that would allow people who have a Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL) to carry a handgun either openly or concealed. “Constitutional carry” (a misnomer for “unlicensed open-carry”) would allow any person who can legally possess firearms to carry handguns either openly or concealed without the need to obtain a CHL.
The three groups that want to pass open-carry are 1) “licensed open-carry” supporters; 2) people who only want “constitutional carry” and will oppose anything else; and 3) those who want “constitutional carry” but will accept “licensed open-carry” as a first step. They should each work toward a common goal without causing collateral damage to the issue, or poking another group in the eye.
The purpose of this article is not to advocate for one form of open-carry over another, or even to advocate for passage or defeat of either type of open-carry. This is a call for civility and statesmanlike advocacy. To point out the obvious, one cannot win votes in Austin by insulting, threatening or demeaning elected officials, nor will such conduct garner support from fellow gun owners. Another recipe for failure is to put oneself or one’s organization ahead the issue itself; i.e. caring more about glory, recognition and/or longevity than achieving the legislative goal.
When any advocacy group takes an “all or nothing” approach, the end result is usually failure. Not just failure in any given legislative session, but also failure in terms of being able to work with the legislature in future sessions. One cannot attack, demean and falsely accuse an elected official, then try unsuccessfully to defeat him/her in the next election and expect to work with them the following legislative session. Only rank amateurs would believe this to be a sound advocacy strategy.
When promoting a legislative goal, especially one that generates a great deal of emotion, one must seek experienced allies, or at the very least, not create enemies with far greater political influence and support. Taking a “you’re for us or you’re against us” approach instead of trying to build a political coalition is just as likely to result in defeat as with the “all or nothing” philosophy. Many are unaware that the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas played a key role in passage of the Motorist Protection Act (HB1815) in 2007. Two groups whose members are often natural born enemies found common ground, developed a common goal, then worked together as a team, each doing what it does best to get HB1815 passed.
Do you want to destroy your credibility, thus your influence, in Austin? Just get caught lying about a bill, the status quo, supporters, elected officials or just about anything else of import. A great example of this happened last session when the representative of an industry group told a real whopper to a House Committee during public hearings. He made a statement about the current state of the law that virtually everyone in the room knew to be untrue. The panel then called a DPS employee to testify as a resource witness and the first question asked was just what one would expect; “is the testimony we just heard true?” The answer – “NO.” The industry representative’s credibility and ability to work in Austin went spiraling down the political toilet.
There is no better way to prove to the political and legislative community that you are an inexperienced neophyte than to overstate the benefits of your proposed legislation, or the ramifications of failure to pass a bill. For example, at one time many “constitutional carry” supporters claimed that open-carry reduces crime. There is no evidence this is true and it certainly does not pass the smell test. Testifying that it does in a committee hearing will likely result in being asked to show the proof. Another example of overstating one’s case is claiming that open-carry is legal in 44 states. While perhaps technically true, it is not commonly practiced to the extent that supporters may imply. Again, do not oversell your bill. Tell the truth, there is no reason to prohibit open-carry and it will be a convenience to many law-abiding Texans.
Of all the things that can turn an elected official against a bill, being threatened with defeat in the next election is at or close to the top of the list. The NRA and TSRA do not make such threats, but elected officials know they have to power to have a huge impact on elections. Grades in the voter guides mean a lot when they are going to millions of members, as do post cards, email blasts and political endorsements. Threatening defeat at the polls is not only insulting and counterproductive, it borders on laughable when an organization does not have the ability to impact school board elections, much less a House or Senate race. Take a cue from those who know how to work in the legislative arena; if the NRA and TSRA do not make such threats, there must be a good reason why.
One should put the greatest effort into supporting your preferred bill, but one should also support other good bills that will advance Second Amendment rights, especially those that would achieve some but not all of your goals. People who support “constitutional carry” should also support “licensed open-carry” because those bills will advance Second Amendment rights and they would achieve some of their goals. Some people feel that by supporting “licensed open-carry” they may lessen the chance of passing “constitutional carry.” While this feeling is natural, one must accept what is politically achievable and what is illusory. One must be willing to achieve legislative goals over more than one legislative session.
By attacking supporters and elected officials that are working for passage of “licensed open-carry,” “constitutional carry only” folks marginalize their political faction to the point that they are reduced to nothing more than political “noise.” The next legislative session, they will have even less legislative impact because they will have failed to unseat elected officials they alienated.
It has been said that politics is a dirty business. Sometimes it is, but it need not be so. Over the last decades, the NRA and TSRA have passed dozens of bills that have worked to the benefit of Texas gun owners and have advanced Second Amendment rights. They have done so with civil discourse and a statesmanlike approach. When it comes to the carrot and stick approach, it works only if you have a big enough stick. If you have such a stick, you do not have to tell anyone, they will know.