I support gun rights and the Second Amendment. But guns don’t belong in the chambers of City Councils and other places of public debate and discussion.
Take the recent situation that faced my friend and Allen City Council member Lauren Doherty. After she voted against a proposed rezoning, which would allow a gun range and shop to open in the city, three citizens spoke to Council to demand her resignation. (The measure passed; Doherty was the only Council member voting against the measure.)
One of Doherty’s detractors open-carried a sidearm on his belt while speaking to Council. As she, and others, saw it, this was an attempt by this individual to intimidate her into stepping down.
The gun-toting speaker’s attempt at intimidation didn’t sit well with Lauren’s many constituents, friends, and supporters. At the next council meeting two weeks later, a group of about 50 supporters, wearing neon-green shirts inscribed with “Lauren Represents Me,” filled the council chamber in a show of solidarity.
During the open session, several Allen residents spoke in support of Lauren’s right as a duly-elected council member to vote “her conscience,” even as they disagreed with her stance, while others voiced their support for her positions and opposition to attempts to intimidate her.
And interestingly enough, the person who wore the gun to speak last time, an Allen resident named Richard Bush, came to speak this week. While often overtly hostile and defiant, he also attempted to explain and rationalize his carrying a sidearm to speak at city council. His explanations were the usual nonsense we hear from 2A fanatics:
“I am a veteran, former Navy SEAL, and former police officer. I’ve carried a weapon for 50 years. Carrying a weapon to me is like carrying an American Express Card — you don’t leave home without it.”
“I did not intend to intimidate Ms. Doherty, and I do not think she was intimidated.”
“I carry my weapon for my own protection, to protect my wife, and if necessary and possible, to protect others who failed to be as prepared to defend themselves as I am.”
“This council building is a soft target! Someone needs to be prepared to defend it.”
These statements of course reflect the typical gun fanatic’s view, which is mostly false and without basis in fact.
To unpack each of his assertions –
- While I respect this veteran’s military service, the North Texas suburbs are not the jungles of South Vietnam, the cities or deserts of Iraq, or the mountains of Afghanistan. There is no need to open-carry a sidearm for “protection.” In fact, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, “Rather than conferring protection, guns in the home are associated with an increased risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”
- While he loudly claimed he didn’t intend to intimidate her, the reason why so many on the Right open carry is precisely to intimidate. This is why they show up to rallies carrying AR-15-style rifles, wearing a sidearm, and often wearing body armor and other tactical gear. They showed up in force to Charlottesville; there were several standing about Beto’s Austin campaign kickoff in April. Right-wing media often talks about coming violence if politics do not go their way.
- In stating that he “carries a gun to protect himself and his wife,” he is echoing a very old American myth: that of the “good guy with a gun.” But while the NRA loves to repeat this trope, the research does not back this up. A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research study revealed that right-to-carry laws increase, rather than decrease, violent crime. Higher rates of gun ownership is correlated with higher homicide rates. Gun possession is correlated with increased road rage. Those who carry guns often have their own guns used against them. And a civilian with a gun is more likely to be killed than to kill an attacker.
- His claim that the city hall building is a “soft target” is rather silly on its face. The building itself is across a small parking lot from city police HQ. During council meetings, the meeting chamber is guarded by several uniformed police officers, and could very well be guarded by other police who are not in the open. So there is no specific need for civilians to be armed and ready to defend the already-guarded city hall against imaginary attackers.
As someone who supports 2A rights, but with smart regulation, I am not opposed to concealed carry, even in a government building such as the Allen City Hall. If someone feels the need to conceal-carry, I am not opposed, so long as the person is legally authorized to carry and the location allows it.
But the facts are clear: more weapons in the hands of civilians, and open-carry, are more likely to cause harm to the person carrying or to that person’s family, and overall makes the community less, not more, safe.
What our communities need is not more guns, but more education on the negative impact guns have on Americans and our society. And we should never allow individuals to threaten or intimidate our elected officials, or any other person, with weapons. Mr. Bush’s claim of openly carrying his weapon “for protection” flies in the face of his clear act of trying to intimidate a political leader who he doesn’t like. His action, while legal under Texas and Allen laws, was inappropriate and set a terrible example. I hope that he and others refrain from openly carrying weapons at future city council meetings, and I hope that the City of Allen at least has a discussion on prohibiting, in accordance with Texas law, the civilian carry of firearms at City Hall.