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If you are licensed to do so, you can now walk around Texas with a handgun on your belt. The state's new open carry law took effect the first of the month. The legislature passed it after emotional protests from both sides of the issue. But now that it's been in effect for a couple of weeks, NPR's John Burnett reports it's not very popular with gun owners.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: So we're walking through a Wal-Mart here in Austin. And I'm with Michael Cargill and Trina Spells, both open-carrying handguns. What kind of a gun do you have?
TRINA SPELLS: I have a .38 revolver.
MICHAEL CARGILL: And I have a 1911 Springfield.
BURNETT: And no one is really paying attention to the handguns on your hips.
CARGILL: Oh, and, oh, my goodness we're African-American.
SPELLS: (Laughter) We forgot that one small detail.
BURNETT: Cargill and Spells are both handgun instructors and firearms enthusiasts, and they couldn't wait to take advantage of the new law. The open-carry crowd says now they can better protect themselves. They don't have to bother with concealing a gun, and anyway, it was already legal in 44 other states, so why not in gun-loving Texas?
As the well-armed duo saunters out the exit doors, one shopper does a wide-eyed double-take, but he doesn't say anything. Yet even if the man had been bothered by a loaded handgun, Michael Cargill shrugs it off.
CARGILL: No, it's not about what they feel. It's not about what they think. The law says that I can conceal-carry my handgun, and now, as of January 1, 2016, it says I can openly carry that handgun. It's all about personal safety.
BURNETT: Personal safety can cut both ways. Open-carry is controversial among gun owners. Some say putting a gun on your belt discourages troublemakers. They love to say an armed society is a polite society. Others say it invites trouble. I put the question to Sam Toups and Monica DeLeon. They're 25 and 23 years old. He works at an IT company in Austin. She's a student. We're sitting in a beer garden. Sam and Monica just got their handgun licenses.
SAM TOUPS: If you are, say, in a scenario where someone comes into a convenience store...
BURNETT: A bad guy.
TOUPS: I would prefer concealed because I wouldn't have a target necessarily automatically painted on my back. Anybody with some working eyeballs can see, all right - that guy - he has a gun, and I need to take care of that first.
MONICA DELEON: You're obviously just trying to get a rise out of someone. You're obviously just trying to make other people uncomfortable. And to be honest, you probably have a really small [expletive]. I'm, like - I automatically think that you're a stupid, low self-esteem person because you need this big ol' truck or you need this big ol' gun to make you feel like a bigger person. I think it's silly, and I don't think it's safe.
BURNETT: Nearly a million Texans have license-to-carry permits or about 3 percent of the state's population. But in the past few weeks under the new law, the streets of Texas have not turned into the O.K. Corral. I've been quizzing acquaintances and strangers all around Central Texas, and they've spotted only a few people openly displaying handguns. In an unforeseen backlash, the new law may actually hurt the cause of handgun carriers. Since January 1, some Texas businesses that formally allowed concealed carry have now decided to ban every form of carry.
MICHAEL PORTMAN: What changed January 1 was that my staff freaked out.
BURNETT: Michael Portman is co-owner of the Birds Barbershop chain in Austin. Before the law, they allowed concealed carry. Now they're prohibiting all guns.
PORTMAN: And this is not a - even a political issue for us as a business. It's a matter of the comfort of our staff, and they're not comfortable with guns in barber chairs - open-carried or concealed - as they move around with scissors and reach over them with buzzers. It just doesn't mix.
BURNETT: One gun owner complained on a web forum for Texas handgun license holders. The lid is off this can of worms, and it will never go back. I hope the right to walk around looking like Wyatt Earp is worth it to the open-carry folks because a lot of us are losing our right to conceal carry. John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.
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