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Rick Perry: shooting from the hip, or drifting (gasp!) left?

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, in an interview yesterday with the Texas Tribune and the Washington Post, said a couple of very odd things. It makes me wonder if he’s simply unleashed these days, or if he’s decided on a course change in a potential Presidential race.

The story, dominated by a “Perry versus Ted Cruz” horserace focus, somewhat buried what I’d consider the lede – highly interesting comments on the overheated open carry issue in the Texas Capitol, and on Molly White’s xenophobic Facebook comments in reaction to Muslim Texans visiting the state Capitol last week.

Representative White garnered national media, and not in the good way, after telling supporters on her Facebook page, on the day Muslim Texans were visiting the Capitol, that she’d instructed her staff  to ask those who visited her office “to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” a stance that earned her a sharp rebuke from House Speaker Joe Straus, as well as deserved nationwide scorn.

In his interview yesterday, Perry made no bones that he disagrees with Rep. White’s position:

“It’s every legislator’s right to say what they want to say,” he said of the Belton Republican’s Facebook comments. “I certainly wouldn’t have.”

“I think the message needs to be sent and has historically been sent that we are a very diverse state,” he said. “We have a lot of different people, different religions, different cultures that call Texas home. We want them to feel comfortable there.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 9.12.17 AM

This photo never gets old.

The former Governor was even more surprising in his comments about the ongoing controversies surrounding the open carry of handguns debate raging in Texas: the gun totin’ rootin’ tootin’ pistol-packin’ coyote-shootin’ daddy-o ain’t a fan:

Perry said he was “not necessarily all that fond of this open carry concept,” adding that those who carry guns ought to be “appropriately backgrounded, appropriately vetted, appropriately trained.”

This position puts him squarely at odds with the so-called “Constitutional carry” advocates currently threatening members of the Legislature with violence if they don’t pass a law allowing them to openly carry handguns without first getting a license. (the measure more likely to pass is one which would require licensing and training, much like current concealed weapon license holders do)

But there’s a more crucial nuance to Perry’s position – one likely to put him at highly-emotional odds with Second Amendment zealots:

“We license people to drive on our highways,” he said. “We give them that privilege. The same is true with our concealed handguns.”

“Hold on there a damn minute,” gun rights advocates are likely to respond, despite Perry merely stating a fact reflecting current reality in Texas law.

Perry just put gun rights – which Second Amendment advocates consider a fundamental Constitutional right – on the same level as drivers licenses – which has long been deemed a privilege, not a right. This is a stance highly likely to get Bubba’s britches in a wad.

Neither of the above stances, on the Muslim dust-up or the open carry fight, is likely to ingratiate him with the more conservative leaning Republican voters in a Presidential primary race.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that Perry simply misspoke and will soon walk back his comments. If so, fair enough, and not particularly interesting.

The second possibility is highly interesting. If his comments were deliberate, it may well signal a change of strategy for Perry in his Presidential aspirations. His comments seem…well…reasonable. Even to me. Hold me close.

Has Perry decided that the GOP Presidential field targeting the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is too crowded, and instead he’s going after establishment Republicans? If so, it wouldn’t be irrational.

On most early head-to-head measures of Perry versus Ted Cruz (who will probably run for President and is indeed the cuddly darling of the Tea Party), Perry usually doesn’t fare well. Add former Governor Mike Huckabee to the list of potentials going after the conservative grass roots, and you can imagine where Perry might suddenly feel under water.

But over on the establishment-leaning side of things, Mitt Romney just announced that he’s out, arguably leaving Chris Christie (who, it was just revealed yesterday, has a fresh criminal investigation pending), and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (who Perry might imagine he can best head-to-head). Potentials Rand Paul and Scott Walker may not have yet decided what they want to be when they grow up. But if Perry has decided to delay a head-to-head battle against rival Ted Cruz, at least in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, drifting toward establishment Republican primary voters would be one way to do it.

Only time will tell whether Perry’s comments signal a course change, or whether he was just shooting from the hip. But anybody who agrees that there is no finer live entertainment than Republican Presidential primary process might agree that the interview was certainly eyebrow-raising.

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What passes for respect, admiration, and trust among the members of the Penis Compensation Caucus

Remember the piece published here a few days ago about the nutty open carry activists in Texas who are so whacked out that even the NRA wants nothing to do with them?

Funny we should run off at the mouth and admit that we finally agree with the NRA on something, because no sooner had we done so when the NRA got frightened of their own words and withdrew the piece in which they’d disavowed themselves of Texas’ open carry activists and called them “un-Texan.”

I guess in this context, “NRA” stands for “Now Run Away.”

Whether the NRA chooses to be outspoken about them or not, there’s little doubt that fellow pro-gun conservatives don’t think much of these clowns either.  Quoted in Newsweek last October, Dave Kopel, a gun policy analyst with the conservative Cato Institute, said this:

You don’t do political activism just for your own emotional expression. You do political activism to advance your cause. And there’s a feeling some of the open carry people have gone too far.

Gee, ya think??!

A week after I wrote my original piece, C.J. Grisham, who is the President of Open Carry Texas – the open carry activists in question, authored a piece for TribTalk to defend the group, complain about the NRA, media bias, and anybody else who opposes them, and basically pretend that he and his ilk are in any way normal activists with a sane, cogent legislative strategy.

C.J. did acknowledge, however, that “as with any newly formed group, we’ve had our growing pains.”  Not that I’ve noticed that his group is growing, but the acknowledgement is appreciated. He also acknowledged that the group has made “several public relations mistakes.”

Again: ya think??!

He then wrote the most laughable laugh in Laughville:

However, this isn’t a fight [with the NRA] we should be having without mutual respect, admiration and trust.

What in the world does Grisham know about respect, admiration, and trust? I’m glad you asked.

He apparently sees his main issues opposition (aside from the liberal biased media) as coming from a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which, I’m sure you could guess, is a group of mostly women who oppose open carry legislation, among other things. In the TribTalk piece, he said they “lie, distort, and manipulate.”

Can you feel that respect oozing out of his pores yet?

How about when his organization’s “growing pains” were unzipped and hanging out, when he called the members of this organization “cackling wenches?”

cackling wenches

Better yet, I bet Grisham thinks his razor-sharp mutual admiration was really demonstrated the time he renamed these women “Thugs with Jugs,” huh?

Apparently Open Carry Texas is only willing to exercise respect, admiration, and trust toward organizations that only disagree with them a lot, instead of disagree with them a huge amount.

Alternatively, perhaps Grisham has bigger issues with respecting women than he does disrespecting the NRA? After all, “cackling wenches” and “thugs with jugs” doesn’t exactly convey “I respect women.”

Open Carry Texas has had its share of legal problems, perception problems, and public policy problems. But as long as they continue to have fundamental respect problems, they shouldn’t be surprised when people – even natural allies, and especially me – have little interest in respecting them. One who continuously disrespects others cannot hope for any respect in return. And I’m the guy who doesn’t even oppose open carry laws, even as I refer to the group as the Penis Compensation Caucus. See how that name-calling works in both directions? Funny how that works.

When the legislature convenes next January, the legislature may well pass an open carry bill. But it won’t be because of these clowns. It will be despite their efforts.

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The day that I actually wholeheartedly agreed with the NRA – the Penis Compensation Caucus is un-Texan

It may come as some surprise to regular readers of these pages (are there any regular readers of these pages?) that I am not necessarily against open carry of handguns as a public policy.

I’m absolutely certain that position will come as a surprise to the number of my NRA fans (that number may well equal zero), who probably did not fully appreciate this piece I wrote on gun control for Texas Monthly a while back.

But no, open carry doesn’t particularly upset me. For one thing, if responsibly crafted, the law wouldn’t put a single new gun on the streets – it would merely change the way concealed weapons permit holders are permitted to carry the guns they’re already carrying.

I do believe, however, that the concept of open carry for handguns is highly situational, a conclusion easily reached based on my dual residences in Austin and in far West Texas. For example, I doubt many people would so much as bat an eye if somebody walked down the streets of Marathon, Fort Davis, or Alpine, located north of the Big Bend, with a handgun strapped to his belt. But if instead of walking down main street in Marathon, that same person was walking down Congress Avenue in Austin, some people would certainly be startled, and many would question the propriety of that.

So no, assuming that an open carry bill limited open carry permits to those already carrying through a CHL, and gave cities and counties an opt-in provision (we ARE for local control, aren’t we?), I’d probably fall asleep so fast I wouldn’t have time to oppose the bill. Apparently Democratic candidate for Governor Wendy Davis doesn’t disagree either.

But do you know what’s even more surprising than people like Wendy Davis or me not opposing open carry laws? The fact that the NRA has come out in opposition to those nutty open carry activists who keep popping up around Texas, armed to the teeth with assault rifles and showing up in fast food restaurants and other retail stores, accomplishing little other than frightening folks and making everybody uncomfortable. I call them the Penis Compensation Caucus.

The NRA has now called their activities “outright foolishness.” And I couldn’t agree more, because those activists only manage to demonstrate that they are both bullies and cowards. Assuming there’s some difference between a bully and a coward, that is.

Here’s more of what the NRA said:

To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary.  It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.

As a result of these hijinx, two popular fast food outlets have recently requested patrons to keep guns off the premises (more information can be found here and here).  In other words, the freedom and goodwill these businesses had previously extended to gun owners has been curtailed because of the actions of an attention-hungry few who thought only of themselves and not of those who might be affected by their behavior. To state the obvious, that’s counterproductive for the gun owning community.

More to the point, it’s just not neighborly, which is out of character for the big-hearted residents of Texas. Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners.  That’s not the Texas way. 

I couldn’t agree more, NRA – it’s just not the Texas way. But never fear – no matter what the NRA says, open carry activism promises to be alive and well later this week in Fort Worth, where such fools plan to be in attendance, complete with their penis compensation instruments, at the Republican State Convention.

Yee-haw, y’all.

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On gun reform, both sides need to get serious

The NRA completely wears me out. I’m a hunter (albeit a pretty crappy one), a gun enthusiast, and was once an NRA member. I quit them years ago, when they morphed from the safety experts, marksmanship instructors, and hunting enthusiasts they used to be, into the defend-gun-and-ammo-manufacturers-at-all-costs extremists they became. Not long after I gave up on them, police organizations, once among their most enthusiastic defenders, gave up on them too.

NRA-Armed-With-PrideAnd after their press conference Friday, it’s clear they have no intention of diverting from their usual path of opposing anything that gets in the way of gun and ammo sales, to anybody, under any circumstances.  They warned of the dangers of video games, which feature guns that don’t work and violence that isn’t real, while ignoring the potential for harm regarding guns that do work and violence that is all-too-real. They complained of the lack of a comprehensive national database of mentally ill Americans, while presumably continuing to strenuously oppose any attempt to create a national database of gun owners. I doubt that I’d be in favor of either, but their hypocrisy is stunning.

Recent polling is clear that their own membership is at odds with the organization’s policy positions. In conclusion, they’re little more than political hacks who don’t even advocate the views of their own members. It doesn’t have to be this way. Indeed, it wasn’t always this way. Did you know that the NRA actually used to support responsible gun control, most recently in 1968?

The anti-gun crowd wears me out too. They lost serious credibility with me when they were fighting against the concealed carry legislation in Texas, claiming that we’d return to the days of the old west and there’d be blood flowing in the streets if the Texas Legislature passed the law. Well the legislature did, indeed, eventually pass the law, and after years of permits being issued, it’s pretty clear that on that front, the law has neither helped nor hurt. It mostly didn’t move the needle in either direction, either in preventing crime or causing additional gun violence. Little of the hysteria they stoked turned out to be true.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrible school shooting last week, I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds fill up with those in the anti-gun crowd who hate guns and want to outlaw all guns everywhere. Advocating for this is clearly a waste of time, following the 2008 Supreme Court ruling affirming that the Second Amendment means pretty much exactly what the gun advocates always said it did.

But it goes beyond being a waste of time; it’s harmful to their own cause. It confirms everything the gun advocates always believed their opponents wanted – to do away with all guns, period. If you are like me, and strongly dislike the NRA because they’re always against any reform whatsoever, you might do well to think through why the NRA eventually morphed to that policy position. They undoubtedly worry that one restriction only leads to the next restriction, and the one after that. They theorize that it will never be enough for many of the folks proposing a limited restriction – that after being emboldened by one legislative win, they’ll be back for more.

If you are lamenting the fact that the NRA continues to be a blockade against any reform whatsoever, and complain of their extremist views, I would respectfully suggest that the equally-extremist views of those who would outlaw all guns everywhere are just as non-constructive to progress.

Get over it: guns will not be outlawed. If that horse hadn’t left the barn 100 years ago when I suspect it did, it certainly left the barn in 2008 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment does, indeed guarantee the right of individuals to own firearms. But every time you engage in the pointless discussion of outlawing guns, you justify the pro-gun crowd’s unwillingness to engage in any kind of meaningful discussion about what can and should be done. Why would anybody negotiate in good faith with those who don’t believe they should even exist? You become the extremist you claim to hate – it’s just that you have embraced your own brand of extremism instead of theirs.

Jerry Patterson

Jerry Patterson

One guy not on the list of extremists this week is state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. The original author of the concealed carry law in Texas, Patterson was among the first out of the gate with a serious proposal for gun control – a way to close the gun show loophole. As a guy who sometimes attends gun shows, I personally don’t think the specifics of his proposal would work very well, but the important thing was that he wasn’t afraid to propose one. And that is a grown-up move, and an important concession. Those who advocate for responsible reform should not dismiss his effort, they should absolutely applaud his gesture, and should tell him so. My strong guess is that the extremists among the pro-gun crowd aren’t being shy about giving him hell for it.

I think we could all stand to learn a lesson from Patterson’s move this week. If in your dreams you imagine a world in which gun advocates would be willing to have a serious discussion about reform, you should also take responsibility for your own position, and be willing to concede that outlawing guns is off your table and not among the list of achievable goals. And if the NRA still refuses to be part of that serious discussion, screw ’em – let ’em sit it out. State legislatures and the Congress should pass responsible reform over their objections, if necessary.

I believe we do need to find a way to close the private sale loophole. I think we should restrict the sale of assault rifles, and curtail high-capacity ammunition magazines (as a friend’s son said the other day, “if it takes you 30 bullets to kill a deer, shouldn’t you find a new hobby?”) We should redouble our efforts to ensure guns aren’t sold, and carry permits not issued, to those with criminal histories, mental illnesses, or otherwise unstable folks. I especially believe we need to get serious about research and accessible, affordable treatment for mental illness in America, and should have been doing that whether gun violence was in the mix or not. And I have no idea how to responsibly achieve any of that, hence the need for a serious national discussion.

And wherever you are on the policy spectrum, if you want that discussion to lead to something meaningful and which saves lives, demonstrate that your half of the conversation will be thoughtful and reasonable. All sides just might be surprised in the result.



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