Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Open Carry Close-Minded on Street Rule

Driving by City Hall on the way home from dinner last night, I noticed a lot of cars and TV vans in the parking lot.

Tuesday nights are city council meeting nights here in Arlington, Texas, but usually, there's hardly a crowd.  And rarely are there TV crews from the local news stations.

I tried to jog my memory regarding what hot-button topic our illustrious leaders might be considering, and drew a blank.  Not that I'm a chronic council watcher, or one of those local government gadflies.  But I do like to know what's going on.  One of my friends calls me "the mayor," because when he lived here, all he had to do was ask me about something in our local news, and chances were, I'd already talked to my "sources" and could fill him in.

Yes, my city councilmember knows me by name.  What's wrong with that?  She still smiles when she sees me!  In fact, my previous councilmember got a new park named after her in our district, and on a work day last year to spruce it up, when she saw that I had signed in as a volunteer, she went looking for me to greet me in person.  And I've never donated a dollar to either of their campaigns.

So yes, I know people.  They're just not people you likely know, or who have any influence outside of our fair city.

At any rate, I had other things to do last night, and it wasn't until I heard the 10:00 news on a television in another room that I realized what had drawn so much interest at City Hall.

 Guns n' Yellow Roses

Here in Texas, a lot of people are extremely proud of their firearms.  Rifles, pistols, shotguns, machine guns, you name it - if it's got a trigger and a barrel, it's considered sacred in the Lone Star State, even if it doesn't work.  We love our guns so much, we've got laws that allow for the "open carry" of legally-registered guns, which means you can display your permitted bullet-launcher on your person in broad daylight, out in the open.

Sure, it looks a little menacing, but that's mostly the point.  It's a bravado factor, an attention-getter, and a big ego trip to be swaggering around with a lethal weapon dangling from your arm or hip.  Of course, if everybody did it, then it wouldn't look so cool.  And if everybody did it out of necessity, it wouldn't be cool at all.  But since most ordinary Texans think walking around with guns looks a bit goofy, at least when you're not out on somebody's ranch during hunting season, not many people here take full advantage of the state's liberal open-carry laws.

But there is a very small number of folks who do.  And they've set their sights on Arlington, where apparently, according to our local media, we have one of the strictest ordinances about walking around in traffic.  Regardless of whether you're open-carrying or not.

Now, maybe you're thinking to yourself:  What fool would want to intentionally walk around in traffic?  Well, our local firemen do it for an annual fundraiser, standing at intersections with their tall fire boots, collecting money when people stop for red lights.  And a group called Open Carry Texas (OCT) wants to be able to do the same thing, only instead of collecting money, they want to hand out pamphlets containing the United States Constitution.  They've worked a couple of Arlington intersections recently, and some of their members have been ticketed for violating the city's ordinance about walking into traffic, even when it's stopped.

At red lights, OTC members will yell at the assembled motorists, with their guns at their sides, yet prominently glistening in the sunlight.  They'll hold up little booklets, and indicate that if anybody wants one, they'll bring one to them in their vehicle.  And sure enough, the inquisitive side of lots of drivers will encourage them to go ahead and wave an OCT guy over, to see what all the fuss is about.  Hey, a bunch of people at a street corner with their rifles and pistols isn't something one sees every day.  For what are they advocating?  What excitement might I be missing out on?

See?  I'm not the only person who likes knowing what's happening!

But I Didn't Shoot No Deputy

Well, at a couple of these events, the police have been summoned, since some motorists call 911 after witnessing OTC'ers, concerned about so many people standing around with firearms out in the open.  And while the cops are checking out the intersection, they've witnessed some of the OCT folks walking out into stopped traffic, handing out their literature.  And that's what the ordinance restricts:  walking out into stopped traffic.  As long as the OTC'ers have the proper gun permits, the guns they're carrying are not the issue.

This is the Lone Star State, remember.

Nevertheless, at this point, it's still unclear the extent to which the police have warned OCT about the ordinance prohibiting them from entering traffic lanes.  Did cops write tickets the first time they saw the violations, or did they verbally inform OCT about the city's statue, and let the first couple of offenses slide?

Speaking as a motorist who's never been let off with simply a warning after being pulled over for speeding, I can attest to the validity of being ticketed immediately upon one's first offense.  Besides, these OCT activists seem well-informed about the laws pertaining to gun ownership, so the law should be something they respect.  Right?

Wrong.  OCT is upset with Arlington because they say the city's ordinance regarding pedestrians entering traffic lanes is unConstitutional.  It violates their right of free speech.

Which, of course, isn't true.  What the ordinance does is warn both motorists and pedestrians of the dangers of mixing together on city streets.  And if pedestrians don't have the good, old-fashioned common sense to stay on the sidewalk and not enter the roadway when three-ton motorized vehicles are present, then it penalizes those pedestrians so they hopefully will learn the lesson their common sense failed to teach them.

It's the worst kind of "Nanny State" when the state actually has to have laws like this.  We can't legislate against morality, and increasingly, we've having to try to legislate against stupidity.  The fact that OCT'ers lack common sense proves the law's purpose.

Yet they still don't understand.  OCT figures that as long as the traffic is stopped at a red light, they should be perfectly safe handing out their literature in the roadway.  And that may be true in theory, but anybody who's ever driven in Texas knows that "Drive Friendly, the Texas Way" isn't a motto, it's a joke.  I've seen motorists try to cross three lanes of traffic while at a stoplight.  People open their doors to dump stuff out of their cars, motorcycles glide between lines of waiting cars, and distracted drivers ram into the back of cars already stopped.  Plus, with right-on-red-after-stop, at least one traffic lane in each direction is constantly moving - the one closest to the sidewalk!

Besides, is standing alongside a major intersection, yelling at drivers in their vehicles, the best way for anybody to disseminate information about their cause?  Granted, this group may not have the funds to run a conventional advertising campaign, but they seem to have done a pretty good job about notifying the local media of their presence at Arlington's City Hall.  Maybe stirring the pot is all they really ever hoped to accomplish, and they banked on the likelihood that video of their gun-slinging boisterousness would make for some lively television news fodder.

As it happened, the ordinance OCT doesn't like wasn't on the council's agenda last night, but the mayor let the group air their grievances for half an hour anyway.  He gave speakers a 2-minute time limit, while the normal time limit for agenda items is three.  Right off the bat, however, some OCT activists were infuriated that their rights were being violated, since they were losing a minute off the normal timeframe.  But the mayor didn't have to give them any time at all, since it wasn't on the agenda.  That's not a violation of free speech; it's taxpayer dollars in action.  Efficient government can't exist at the whim of petulant loudmouths, and believe me, I've heard plenty of them at City Hall over the years.

Not that the city doesn't value the free exchange of opinions.  My understanding is that there's the equivalent to an "open mike" at the end of each council meeting, but I've never stayed long enough to find out.  By then, any reporters that have come to witness any debates over agenda items have usually left, along with virtually all of whatever audience may have shown up for the official proceedings.  Since OCT seems intent on their public grandstanding, what kind of opportunity would that open mike venue afford them?

And speaking of grandstanding, I wonder how many OTC'ers would welcome the scenario in which anybody was allowed to wander into traffic at any stoplight, handing out informational literature?  They say their freedom of speech is being curtailed, but it's funny how they didn't get agitated when they first discovered that nobody else can do it, either.  Except the firemen, of course, which is a little different.  For one thing, firemen are first responders who are trained to interact with traffic.  Second, just about everybody knows what those "fill the boot" campaigns are, and there's less confusion about why they're standing about in the roadway.  And third, they're not likely to sue the city if they ever did get hit by a motorist.  As selfish, obstinate, and illogical as these OTC'ers are being, meanwhile, who's willing to bet the city won't be caught up in some sort of lawsuit if one of them were to get hurt?

Aim to Please

Personally, I wish the firemen wouldn't stand in the streets with their boots and solicit money, either. It does appear to set a double-standard, even if there's a big difference between firemen and OTC'ers standing in traffic.  No matter who does it, and whether or not they're well-trained first responders, pavement is a risky place for pedestrians to be.  Shucks, look how dangerous it is for automobiles!  If the city decides the easiest way to neutralize this flap is to end the "fill the boot" campaign, finding a different way for the fire department to run its fundraiser will be the worst result.

According to OTC's website, one of their goals is to "foster a cooperative relationship with local law enforcement... with an eye towards preventing negative encounters."  And I suppose their current little stunt is fostering cooperative relationships and preventing negative encounters?  Please!  They simply want to do what they want to do, wherever they want to do it.

As far as having a bunch of tough-looking guys wandering around with guns strapped to their shoulders in plain sight, I'm not crazy about it, but then again, having that type of presence near a retail area might make petty criminals think twice.  I already know of several friends who have conceal-and-carry permits, which means they've got a pistol under their shirt in public, and that doesn't bother me in the slightest.  I'm not anti-gun, but I'm not used to them being used as decoration, either.

Nevertheless, as far as Arlington's pedestrian ordinance goes, if OTC wants to set a good example of responsibility, respect, dignity, and prudence, they need to stop making mountains out of molehills.  Over-reaction and radicalism are two things law-abiding gun owners don't need as distractions to their hobby... or their rights.  Currently, OTC isn't just hurting their own cause with their belligerence.  They're handing ammunition to gun control advocates.

Sticking to your guns doesn't mean shooting your mouth off because the city won't let you go play in traffic.

Update:  And speaking of nanny state laws, over-regulation, using common sense, and simply taking responsibility for one's own actions, how about this story as reported by our local ABC affiliate:  A softball hit from the sports fields of a Dallas high school sailed over the fence and hit a passing car.  Now the car's owner wants the Dallas school district to pay for his broken windshield, and install netting to prevent other fly balls near the busy urban roadway.  What do you think?  On the one hand, it was purely an accident.  If there was a softball player at the school aiming for this driver's car, then Major League scouts should be on-campus this afternoon getting this kid on some professional roster!  Otherwise, it's a simple accident, and while it would be a good idea for the school district to install some netting above its existing fence, why make the district pay for the replacement windshield?  As commenters to this story pointed out online, this is what insurance is for:  accidents.

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