Open carry activists didn’t win in Texas because of public opinion, at least not on the superficial and transitory image of public opinion that’s usually measured. It was won because the activists developed means and methods to communicate around the elite establishment, grew their own organizations and vision, and exerted raw political power to bend the government to their will. Of course, they had several advantages . . .
The facts were on their side. The Constitution is on their side. And the culture is on their side. Arrayed against them were big government elites, big media, and big educrats from the university system. They weren’t asking for much, just to right an injustice perpetrated a 160 years ago. To reclaim something that was their birthright. It cost no money and it was at no risk to the population.
It wasn’t done by politely asking politicians if they would “pretty please” restore their rights. I am not saying that proper manners aren’t effective. Used properly, they’re an effective tool. Activists in the political arena quickly learn to threaten political defeat very politely. That’s what has happened with the open carry activists.
Their long gun open carry marches, Facebook pages, and media coverage created tens of thousands of dedicated activists who were focused, knowledgeable, organized, and persistent. These are exactly the things that politicians fear in opponents. This is why the purported “public opinion” means so little.
For an ordinary person, an article about an open carry event is an interesting tidbit in an endless stream of news, entertainment, and images that enters and leaves her consciousness with virtually no impact. It makes no impression on the way that she votes a year from now. She may not understand the primary process, and isn’t particularly interested in it. The idea of studying the political landscape and searching for weak pressure points has never occurred to her.
But the same article will notify members of the gun culture that there is a way to restore their rights, that there is a movement, organization, and tasks for them to do. It creates activists, and activists matter.
Activists had strong impacts in the last election cycle. Many opponents of open carry were defeated in their primaries. Many others faced opposition that they hadn’t expected and had to overcome it. Both candidates for governor felt the power of the open carry movement. Greg Abbott welcomed it and the Democrat candidate transparently tried to half-heartedly co-opt it. It’s easy to understand why. Open carry activists had created the biggest social movement in Texas since the Civil Rights days. In the last 18 months, they held over 2,500 open carry marches.
The army of open carry activists didn’t stop with marches and defeating opponents in primaries. They watched the legislative process, day-by-day at first. Then hour-by-hour as the elites attempted to use the system to delay the bill until it was too late to pass. At the last, they were watching a live feed from the legislative chambers, and directing their outrage against offending legislators on the phone lines and email servers in real time.
It was the open carry of rifles that forced the politicians to act. Not by itself. But the carry was strong, symbolic, political, speech, an act that was the seed that grew into an army of activists. It was common for open carry marchers to be cheered by members of the public who saw them as a force standing for the Constitution. Their reach increased geometrically with YouTube videos and Facebook pages.
Ultimately they prevailed. Governor Abbott signed HB 910 into law Saturday. Licensed open carry of modern pistols will be legal on January 1.
Second amendment supporters and the open carry movement aren’t winning by creating and changing public opinion. That’s a positive, after-the-fact byproduct. They are winning by creating and exercising raw political power. One activist is worth a hundred passive voters.
Open carry, whether hand guns or long guns, is a combination exercise of the First and Second Amendment rights and should be doubly protected. I suspect that many who rail against open carry do so because they are uncertain if they have the intestinal fortitude to do it themselves.
It is, however, very effective. As Texans could legally open carry only long guns, they did so, creating a social movement that has shaken the political landscape.
Governor Abbott has signed their first open carry legislative victory. It will not be their last.