With the recent resurgence in popularity of open carry in Texas, I’ve decided to write a two- part article exploring the topic of unconcealed firearms in public places. For the record, I’m not talking prohibited places under the Texas Penal Code such as court houses or schools. While the first article will cover long guns, my second article will touch on the politics of open carry and handguns. Before we get started, open carry of a long gun in Texas is only forbidden if a citizen intentionally or knowingly displays the firearm in a manner calculated to cause alarm.
Back in December, a man was arrested after open carrying an AR-15 rifle into the Parkdale Mall in Beaumont, Texas. Local authorities arrested Derek Poe and charged him with disorderly conduct for “displaying a weapon in a manner calculated to cause alarm”. Witnesses reported they “were terrified” and “thought they were going to die”. Poe stated he was just exercising his second amendment right to open carry a rifle and maintains his barrel was facing downward the entire time, the rifle remained strapped to his back, his hands were not on the gun and there was clearly no criminal intent. Interestingly, Derek Poe is the owner of Golden Triangle Tactical gun store located inside the Parkdale Mall. You can watch Poe’s arrest video by clicking HERE.
A similar incident took place just months before in San Antonio, with dramatically different results. On August 9th, 2013, Brian McCauley peacefully entered a Starbucks Café with an AK-74 rifle, where two SAPD officers were already waiting for him. McCauley had previously called ahead to notify both Starbucks and San Antonio PD of his intentions. Like Poe, McCauley had the rifle strapped to his back, the barrel was facing down the entire time and his hands were not on the gun. The officer’s were there to chaperone the visit at the popular coffee shop, and no arrests were made, no charges filed. How could two almost identical situations have resulted in such radically different interpretations under the same state law? You can watch McCauley’s entire encounter by clicking HERE.o
Interestingly, a month later, Starbucks would issue a public statement asking customers to leave firearms behind when they are in its stores and its outdoor seating areas. “Nevertheless, customers in many stores have been jarred and fairly uncomfortable to see guns in our stores, not understanding the issue and feeling that guns should not be part of the Starbucks experience, especially when small kids are around”, said Chief executive of Starbucks Howard Shultz. “We are going to serve them as we would serve anyone else…store employees will not ask customers who come in with guns in holsters to leave or confront them in any way” Shultz said. “There are going to be people on both sides who will be disappointed or angry, but we’re making a decision we think is in the best interests of our customers, employees and the company.”
As a gun shop and indoor range owner, it will probably come as little surprise that I’m highly pro gun. If this topic was just a simple matter of pushing for more gun rights, then count me in. But there’s much more at stake. This is situation where lawmakers need to desperately make a uniform interpretation of the law and clearly define what it means “to display a firearm in a manner calculated to cause alarm”. Specifically, will the legislature interpret “Disorderly Conduct” with respect to open carrying rifles in public as the act of recklessly or intentionally pointing the weapon at someone else, or could the mere act of possessing the firearm be interpreted as “causing alarm”? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, the open carry debate will rage on. If the open carry movement progresses at its current pace, don’t be surprised if you start to see more and more private businesses post “No Guns Allowed” signs.
On a personal level, I have a high regard for Starbucks. Not only are we neighbors, but years ago Starbucks helped broker the deal that made it possible for me to put my gun store and indoor range in our shopping center. Routinely, I have walked through our parking lot with a loaded AR-15 strapped to my back, and no one has ever given me a second look. I own a number of AR-15’s and use them primarily for hunting purposes. However, I also carry an AR-15 with me to work for self- defense, and like every rational gun owner, would never consider using it unless a homicidal maniac was on the loose themselves armed with a rifle. The difference is I just don’t feel the need to open carry it inside other peoples businesses to make statements, potentially jeopardizing their livelihood or scaring away their customers. Outside of that, perhaps the second biggest motivation for not flaunting my rifle out in public is the giant bull’s-eye that will inevitably be on my back for any criminal that I may encounter. If discretion is considered the better part of valor, a concealed handgun brings a certain tactical advantage along with the element of surprise.
Granted, there is a time and place for open carry of long guns. In parts of the world like Israel, open carry of weapons like military style rifles, is reportedly routinely seen among such groups as school teachers. Not that long ago, it was a relatively common sight to see rural pick- up trucks throughout Texas equipped with rifles racks mounted inside the rear window for the entire world to see. We just never saw those cowboys or farmers take their rifles into the local café, corner grocery store or bank with them strapped to their backs. The bottom line is the case against Derek Poe should and likely will get thrown out, while the battle for our gun rights continues to rage on.