Editorial: Shall Issue. Well, How Did We Get Here?

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.


  1. avatar Martin Albright says:

    I think the ball really started rolling in 1995. The passing of the Brady Law and the Assault Weapons ban in 1994 infuriated and mobilized gun owners who had grown complacent over the years.

    With their new found political power, gun owners pushed for liberalized concealed carry at the state level, partially in response to such shootings as the Luby's massacre but also as a means of flexing their political muscles and galvanizing other gun owners into action After all, it's a lot easier to motivate people to support a political movement that will convey a benefit on them, vs a purely defensive action meant to prevent further erosion of their rights.

    IIRC Florida was one of the first states to pass a modern "shall issue" law and when the streets of Orlando and Pensacola failed to run red with blood, the arguments against concealed carry appeared more and more desperate and shrill.

  2. avatar Donal says:

    Studies tell us that the airliner is safer than the car, but my gut feeling is that I'd rather have the control of my own car than be at the mercy of the aircraft and crew. Especially since deregulation of the industry.

    Similarly I think people have lost confidence in the ability of police to prevent a major tragedy. Especially with the declining fortunes of the middle class. While there is certainly a risk of getting shot by one of two armed idiots in a restaurant, we somehow feel more in control if we have our own weapon.

  3. avatar Brad Kozak says:

    What I think most people fail to grasp is that the police function mainly as a group to enforce laws AFTER they've been broken. Certainly, a police presence serves as a deterrent, but they can't be everywhere, or even be there before something happens to prevent a crime from occurring. If the best they can do is to ID the bodies and search for the perps, I'm bloody well gonna take steps to protect myself.

  4. avatar Donal says:

    Well, let me rephrase that. I think most people have lost faith in society, and expect major tragedies that the police cannot control. Columbine, the McDonald's killing, the Amish school killing, the Va Tech killing, the DC snipers, Ft Hood, etc., not to mention the constant stream of shootings that are reported every day.

    In several of the above instances, teachers or even students would have had to be armed to change the outcome. The DC snipers could have shot people with concealed guns as easily as those without. At Ft Hood, a lot of people were shot before the armed response. That McDonalds case, similar to the cafeteria case above, is one where an armed citizen might have saved lives.

    If some guy walks in with an AR and a Glock, I suppose I'm better off with an LCP than nothing, but I think carrying concealed weapons is treating the symptom, not the disease.

  5. avatar Brad Kozak says:

    I'm all for concealed carry, providing that individuals that carry are well-trained and informed. I think it's more than an answer to the symptoms of what's wrong with society. Dating back to the founding of the country, citizens were REQUIRED to own guns and be ready, willing and able to defend their own property. That self-defense concept was the foundation of the term "militia" as found in the 2nd Amendment. DId you ever stop to think why virtually EVERY mass shooting in the past 10 years has taken place in an area where guns are not allowed? "Gun-Free Zones" are simply target-rich shooting galleries. It's a simple matter of the good guys obeying the rules, versus bad guys that take advantage of the rules.

    In a perfect world, we wouldn't need guns, or the ability to conceal and carry. Until that happens, I'll keep my right to bear arms, and support laws that allow me to defend myself in any situation.

  6. avatar Donal says:

    When I was growing up, every place was gun-free, but no one was shooting at us. Now they are, and they don't seem to care whether they live through the attempt or not. That's the disease.

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