I recently had a discussion with a well-educated friend. She’s articulate, opinionated and unafraid to share her perspectives. She believes the world would be better off without guns. She is also of the opinion that an individual should have to prove they have the right to carry a gun, rather than the putting the onus on the state to prove that an individual should not have the right to carry (a.k.a. “shall issue”). We agreed to disagree. But this got me to thinking, how did we get here?
When I was growing up in Louisiana, gun permits were a rare thing. To get a permit to carry a gun in his car, my dad had to go to the sheriff’s office and apply to become an auxiliary deputy sheriff. Otherwise, a citizen wishing to carry a handgun outside of his home was SOL (as they say these days). And back then, owning a handgun automatically placed you under suspicion. No doubt my African American friends had an even tougher time of it.
Fast-forward to today, and handgun laws have done a 180. In my adopted home state of Texas, the advent of new, more “lenient” conceal carry laws was met with fear and loathing by their opponents. They predicted a return to the Wild West, with armed citizens ready, willing and apt to go all John Wayne on anybody that crossed them.
Of course, that didn’t happen. In fact, statistical analysis of gun-related injuries and deaths in states that have conceal carry laws show that gun violence has decreased. Citizens that conceal carry are statistically unlikely to perpetrate gun crimes. And yet antipathy remains.
“You would want to carry your gun into this restaurant?” my anti-gun amiga demanded. “What if everybody in here had guns? Don’t you think there’d be trouble? Don’t you think that some of the people in here have no business having guns?”
Interesting questions all. They all share the sheriff’s underlying supposition: if you carry, you’re up to no good. They also assume that people are idiots (hard to argue that one, but still), and that any idiot can qualify for a concealed handgun license.
In point of fact, The Lone Star State performs background checks (extensive background checks, actually) on Concealed Handgun (CHL) applicants. It’s months after you’d paid your fees and passed the tests before you may—or may not—get your license.
Anyway, to understand how and why things changed, we have to go back to a sleepy little town called Killeen, on October day in 1991.
It was lunchtime. The town’s cafeteria was a bustling place. In the twinkling of an eye, a pickup truck crashed through the plate glass windows and came to rest inside the restaurant. A local vet ran to the driver’s door, thinking that the driver must have passed out, had a heart attack, or was otherwise injured. No such luck. He was shot dead where he stood.
Exiting his Ford Ranger pickup, George Jo Hennard, Jr. exclaimed “This is what Bell County did to me!” Walking calmly through the restaurant, Hennard put his guns (a Glock 17 and a Ruger P89) to the bodies or foreheads of Luby’s patrons and pulled the trigger.
A loner who often told anyone who would listen, “one day they would all see what I’m was capable of,” Hennard reloaded several times. He targeted women over men (he’d earlier been accused of stalking a neighbor and her two daughters). The total carnage: 23 people murdered, 20 more wounded.
The police arrived, chasing Hennard into a bathroom. They wounded him. Hennard put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
Why did he do it? Nobody knows. What we do know: a young woman, Suzanna Hupp, owned a handgun. She’d left it just a couple of dozen feet away, in her car, as she dined with her parents.
Her father charged Hennard during the massacre—and died trying to stop him. Hupp’s mother was shot and killed. Hupp was unable to do anything to stop Hennard; she was obeying the gun laws in effect at the time.
Texas law held that it was illegal to conceal carry a handgun unless you were a member of law enforcement. Hupp later stated that she regretted that she’s obeyed the law and left her gun in the ca. If she’d had it in her purse, she might have been able to shoot Hennard before he murdered so many in cold blood.
As a result of this tragedy, the Texas Legislature passed a law known as “Shall Issue,” which puts the burden on law enforcement/government to deny a permit, rather than on the individual to prove that they deserve a carry permit. Then-Texas Governor George W. Bush signed the bill into law.
So my friend’s question about carrying in a restaurant was more appropriate than she could have guessed.
Thankfully, I’ve never had a horrific experience with gun violence as the patrons of Luby’s did that fateful day in October of 1991. But the spree killing spurred the Legislature to change the law to allow responsible citizens to carry concealed weapons.
Do I think it’s essential to carry concealed weapons while dining? Nope. But if someone came into the restaurant guns blazing, aiming to kill strangers and make a name for themselves, I would hope that somebody in the joint had a permit, and the good sense to carry the day.