This ought to be interesting.
After two shootings targeting police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, there’s been an uptick in the national conversation about how best to support law enforcement. Politicians and lawmakers such as Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who used his platform during a town hall on race and policing to ask President Obama if he was sure law enforcement knew in their “heart” that he supported them, have been at the forefront of this renewed dialogue. Governor Greg Abbott has also showed support for law enforcement by announcing the Police Protection Act, a proposal that aims to increase penalties for crimes against law enforcement and would reclassify an attack on an officer as a hate crime.
Abbott hopes that the act will be passed in the 2017 Legislative session. For their part in the upcoming session, law enforcement groups plan to bring up an issue that they somewhat disagree with Abbott on: open carry. According to the Texas Tribune, some groups intend to request revisions to open carry. Along with other issues such as restoring funds and improving employee benefits, Charley Wilkison, the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, wants to recommend changes to the law to make it easier for law enforcement to handle open carry.
“I expect to stand in committee and say all our rights are abridged everyday,” Wilkison told the Tribune. “You still can’t even yell ‘fire’ in a theater. So my freedom of speech is abridged just like yours. There is a greater good called the community. We’ll try to make our stand there.”
Open carry has been a point of contention between Texas lawmakers and law enforcement since the 2015 legislative session. Republican lawmakers, buoyed by Abbott’s promise to sign any bill expanding gun rights that landed on his desk, pushed to pass the open carry and campus carry laws, even as law enforcement groups around the state opposed such measures. There were concerns that open carry would make situations such as active shooters more dangerous as law enforcement tried to figure out who was a threat and who wasn’t. During a Senate committee hearing on the bills in February 2015, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo referenced data that showed that 75 percent of Texas police chiefs surveyed said they were opposed to open carry. It was later in May that the concerns of police officers were taken into consideration, and lawmakers removed a portion of the open carry bill that would have prevented law enforcement from checking people for gun licenses if they were openly carrying a gun.
So though the Police Protection Act seems to have good intentions, it’s helpfulness is doubtful. What might actually be helpful in protecting police officers is examining their concerns about a law they stated would make their jobs more dangerous. This time around, will politicians and lawmakers like Patrick and Abbott—who are strong supporters of open carry and expanding gun rights—continue to support law enforcement who want to make changes to open carry? The upcoming legislative session might be an opportunity to see how much support they’re willing to give.
This Trib story from a few days before goes into some more detail about this upcoming dispute. I still can’t quite tell what exactly CLEAT and similar organizations are asking for. Ope carry isn’t going to get repealed, though perhaps there is some room to accommodate law enforcement concerns this time around. It’s hard to say without knowing exactly what kind of modifications they’re seeking. The main thing that I’ll be looking for is how Greg Abbott and especially Dan Patrick respond to this. Patrick has been hugging law enforcement extra hard for political purposes lately; we’ll see how he reacts when they don’t play along with his script.