Posted on February 6, 2014 at 7:30 PM
Thursday, Feb 6 at 7:41 PM
AUSTIN -- When Texas attorney general and Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott announced his support for open carriage of handguns, it sparked heated debate in Austin.
"When people see those firearms, they're less likely to commit a crime," concealed handgun license instructor and Central Texas Gun Works owner Michael Cargill told KVUE in a November interview.
"When you have a gun on your hip, I think you're going to escalate whatever the interaction might have been," said Kris Hilsher, Austin ambassador for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Democratic state senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is backing open carry as well. Responding to an AP questionnaire, Davis said she supports open carry of handguns in Texas. Davis qualified her position by saying "state government should be sensitive to private property owners (including governmental, education, religious, healthcare and other institutional facilities) to determine whether to allow open carry on their own properties."
In answer to a followup question asking how such a policy would be implemented, Davis said, "Licensing for open carry should track that for concealed carry. This should help ensure that only mentally stable, law abiding citizens may carry whether concealed or open."
"There's not an enormous amount of risk here in doing this for her," said Texas Politics Project Director and University of Texas Prof. James R. Henson.
In a state that loves its guns, Henson says Davis' position may effectively cut off a contentious campaign issue upon which conservatives could have sought to capitalize.
"It's an effort to not leave any daylight between her and a Republican candidate in the fall," said Henson.
Last week, Davis posed with a shotgun that belonged to former Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, whose dove hunting on the campaign trail in 1994 fared better than her Republican opponent. Although Richards failed to bag any fowl, George W. Bush captured the headlines with a $130 fine for accidentally shooting a protected songbird.
While Richards opposed efforts to pass a concealed handgun licensing law in Texas, Davis' open carry position clashes with the state Democratic party.
"The Texas Democratic Party has and will always support the U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment," Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Emmanuel Garcia said in a statement Thursday. "We have also always supported common-sense firearm regulations that ensure public safety. In our opinion, 'open-carry' does not meet that threshold. There is little to no public safety justification for 'open-carry.'"
"Democratic voters really have no other place to go," said Henson. "So, the calculus here is she makes this pronouncement that's at odds with her base. She moves it off the table, and her base isn't reminded of it again for the rest of the election."
While Democrats may be less than enthusiastic about Davis' open carry stance, Henson suggested Davis' position may avoid criticism to the extent it's considered believeable. Even if her position fails to win over a significant number of conservative voters in the end, Davis seems unlikely to be hurt by sticking to her guns.