MAXWELL: Better not mess with Texas’ gun laws
9/18/2002 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

Tony Sanchez and John Sharp have one essential thing in common with Rick Perry and David Dewhurst besides their all being Texans running for office. Sanchez and Sharp are the Democratic candidates running for governor and lieutenant governor. Perry and Dewhurst are the GOP candidates running for the same offices.
The essential thing these four have in common is that each knows that to have any chance at all of winning in the Lone Star State at his level, he must tout his love of guns and show his support for gun ownership. All four candidates claim to own many firearms. Sharp told the Dallas Morning News that his private collection sports 30 shotguns and rifles and a few pistols.
“I’m a proud owner and have been most of my life,” he told the paper. “I probably have more than I need, but not as many as I want.”
This is Texas, where the gun is king, where ordinary citizens can easily get a license to carry a concealed handgun, where only liberals have the nerve to support criminal background checks for people buying guns from unlicensed sellers at gun shows and flea markets, where George W. Bush whipped Ann Richards for governor in 1994 because she vetoed the concealed handgun bill.
In Texas, unlike my home state of Florida, even Democrats eagerly line up to worship hunting and firearms. The gun is a bipartisan tradition. With 40,000 members, the single-issue Texas State Rifle Association does not have to worry about turncoat Democrats.
During his recent, annual dove hunting junket at a South Texas ranch, Democrat Sharp made sure plenty of supporters, cameras and reporters were on hand to see him blasting birds out of the sky.
The other day, I saw for the first time Sanchez’s statewide TV commercial in which he is shown expertly handling rifles and shotguns. Holding a shotgun and speaking tough, he says: “We don’t need more gun laws.” I have not seen his Web site, but I am told that the democratic nominee for governor is shown hunting with his sons.
“In Texas, if you’re a Democrat, you have to prove you’re a liberal who can shoot,” Rob Allyn, a Dallas-based political consultant, told the Morning News. “It’s important to be a hunter in Texas.”
The Morning News reported that a recent poll indicated half of the Texans polled owned at least one firearm. Texas also has 1-million licensed hunters. Even getting a minimum safety measure passed in the state can turn into a shootout. All four candidates, for example, vehemently oppose proposals for mandatory trigger locks. Each man also opposes a bill that would prohibit concealed handguns on public property.
They are confident that as they crisscross the state, they will have a hard time sounding extreme, and terms such as “gun nuts” and “gun lobby” come only from far-left corners around some of the larger university cities. Each candidate is determined to head off any federal interference in Texas gun affairs.
“I believe the Texas Constitution is clear on this point,” Perry said. “The regulation of firearms is a state responsibility.”
Obviously, not all Texas political leaders and elected officials bow to the state’s gun tradition. John Shanks, for instance, a former San Antonio police officer who heads the Texas Coalition to Prevent Firearm Injury, has battled gun advocates for years.
His goal is not to ban guns but to find a larger number of courageous elected officials to help his organization prevent gun violence. He says: “A lot of noise is made about the gun issue hurting or helping candidates, and in some places outside of Texas it has helped candidates win elections. In Texas, though, I don’t know of any candidates who are carrying the banner of gun violence prevention. There are plenty of them who support us, but they are not carrying the banner in their campaigns. We wish they would be a little more out front on this issue, but we respect their position. After all, they can’t do any good if they don’t get elected.”
Even most of the elected officials who support gun safety legislation are gun owners. And they make this fact clear. Debra Danburg, a Houston Democrat, is sponsoring a bill to require background checks at flea markets and gun shows, and she supports the move to ban concealed handguns on public property. Her salvation is that she lets everyone know she is not an enemy of guns. She has a license to carry a concealed handgun.
Tony Proffitt, a political consultant, clearly has a handle on the gun issue in Texas. “Hunting,” he said, “is part of the psyche of a lot of Texans, and if politicians mess with it, they do so at their own risk.”