Monday, March 28, 2005

Law allowing guns in vehicles protects rights

I support Rep. Terry Keel's HB 823 which will be heard in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee tomorrow. As I read it, the bill amends section 46.02 of the Penal Code to make it legal to carry a gun in your vehicle, regardless of whether you're traveling out of your home county, unless you're barred from possessing a weapon for other reasons, like a felony record, etc.

A lot of my liberal friends will complain that road rage incidents will henceforth involve roadway gunfights. Maybe so. A few always did. Perhaps they'll grant, though, that allowing Texans concealed carry permits never caused the much-predicted upsurge in gun violence.

Even if you oppose gun violence - and who doesn't? - it's hard to deny that the erosion of individual Second Amendment rights has had the unintended consequence of allowing law enforcement to abrogate other important liberties. Police frequently use legal weapon ownership as an excuse for searching vehicles, for example, and prosecutors do the same to "enhance" charges for otherwise penny-ante offenses. A drug beef becomes a more serious offense if there's an otherwise legal gun in the house, especially in the federal system where a lot of gun crimes now go. Many Texans legally own a gun, myself included, and there's no good reason for gun owners to receive extra attention from law enforcement unless there's probable cause to believe we've done something wrong with it.

Arguing on behalf of ACLU for a consent search ban, I've been told by officers that they're only searching for two things: guns and drugs. This bill would remove one major incentive for police to search at traffic stops.

Beyond that, though, I favor reversing the trend of making criminal offenses of otherwise legal behavior like carrying a legal firearm, sleeping on a park bench or suggestive cheerleading - what Michael Quinn Sullivan of the Texas Public Policy Foundation has called the "criminalization of civil life." We've got too many damn laws, and too many ways the system can jack with people for no good reason. HB 823 would remove one of those reasons at a traffic stop.

Scott has more.