Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Pack your pistola and hit the road

If this Fall a rash of gunfights break out on Texas' highways, maybe you should blame me. A little bit, anyway. Or maybe it will just be okay.

Despite good intentions, I've not been blogging much when I testify before legislative committees, often because I get home tired then realize what I just sat through was boring as hell. But last night I was rewarded for waiting through a long hearing by getting to significantly influence a bill.

Testifying on behalf of ACLU of Texas at a meeting of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, I spoke in favor of HB 823 by Keel, which I discussed Monday, allowing Texas drivers to carry a firearm in their vehicle. The National Rifle Association was there in force behind it. Like
Sputnik from the Motorcycle Rights Association, though, I complained about a change in the committee substitute that defined "traveling" as only occurring when a driver "crosses or intends to cross a county line."

Such language would invite drivers to lie to police officers, I told the committee, since the only defense to carrying a gun in one's car would be to say you're preparing to travel to the next county.
Rep. Debbie Riddle surprised us both, I'd guess, by agreeing with me, declaring that she lived four minutes from the Harris County line north of her home, but didn't feel the need to carry a firearm traveling into Montgomery County. By contrast, she could travel for two hours south through Houston, depending on traffic, without reaching a county line, and she felt more like she needed personal protection for that trip.

I argued that current law encouraged unnecessary and unproductive vehicle searches because police officers considered even legal guns contraband. If guns were legal to own they should be legal to transport, and gun owners shouldn't be harassed. The current statute is an example of what Michael Quinn Sullivan of the Texas Public Policy Foundation has called the "criminalization of civil life," I told them. Public safety isn't the issue. If I were packing a gun in the committee meeting that evening, I said, the committeemembers wouldn't be one bit less safe because I don't want to shoot anybody. Similarly, police wouldn't be less safe because law abiding gun owners don't pose a risk, and they're already in jeopardy from the bad guys.

Chairman Terry Keel, R-Austin, the bill sponsor, said the definition of "traveling" for the purpose of carrying a firearm in your vehicle had been debated for years but never adequately resolved, and asked how I would solve it. I suggested deleting the county line nonsense, simply defining "traveling" as when someone is in a private motor vehicle, is not "otherwise engaged in criminal activity," and is "otherwise entitled or eligible to possess a firearm" - language that was already in his bill. In essence, that means that if you legally own a gun and don't intend to use it to commit a crime, you could legally transport it wherever you want in your car. After conferring a moment with his colleagues, Keel announced he would accept ACLU's suggestion. I replied that he should take it and run with it.

I did have one chilling moment in the hearing, I'll say. A cop's wife brought by the National Rifle Association testified that she wanted to carry a small pistol, loaded, in her glove box, but assured committee members that it would be locked in the glove compartment with the safety on to protect "the little ones." If some dumbass leaves a pistol in the glove box as a result of this bill and some kid blows his fool head off, I probably won't feel so friggin clever. By contrast, though, a lot more kids die in car wrecks and that doesn't cause the government to restrict our right to travel. Sh*t happens. Similar dire predictions about allowing concealed carry permits for handguns didn't pan out, so hopefully that fear won't either. The same risk already exists in gun owners' homes.

I split after my testimony, but I see this morning that Chairman Keel wound up leaving the bill pending. I figured as much. By the time the bill had been heard (it was the final one on the agenda), the committee no longer had a quorum. It seemed to have the necessary votes, though, and could be voted out as soon as next week. Here's the video feed of the hearing, if you're interested; the bill came up at 9:55 p.m.

UPDATE: The next day this bill passed favorably out of committee.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

JDG - it is an expression of ACLU of Texas' policy, which differs somewhat from ACLU national on this subject. We supported some 2nd Amdt stuff in the 2003 session in TX, too. Best,

Anonymous said...

i need an opinion on the difference in the new will this effect motorcycle riders?
the old law in the 1973penal code book read "on,or about the person,or in the saddle bags".

Gritsforbreakfast said...


I'm not a lawyer and don't know of any formal legal opinion, but Sputnik of the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association was a strong supporter of the bill, so I assume bike riders are covered because he was happy with it.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see someone else in the ACLU defending the right of self-defense. I was on the Indiana Civil Liberties Union state board in the 1990's and got involved in 2nd Amendment issues. I discuss that and my switch to the individual rights view of the 2nd Amendment on my "Why I Carry" site at