Houston-ISD to Begin Removing Confederate Names from Several Schools

Just before the MLK holiday weekend, Houston Independent School District took steps to strip Confederate namesakes from several Houston area schools. The heated issue even brought out a former state Governor, and has some community activists talking about a possible new namesake.
(Video: KTRK 13 News)

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Houstonians, Texans React to Obama Administration’s New Orders on Gun Background Checks

Matthew Watkins, Texas Tribune
Texas’ elected leaders lashed out Tuesday at President Obama’s executive orders prompting more background checks during gun purchases. But those officials offered no specifics on how they planned to fight Obama’s actions, and some gun rights advocates dismissed the president’s proposals as mostly insignificant.

While Gov. Greg Abbott said that Obama “trampled” on the Bill of Rights, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called the ideas “political posturing and more propaganda.” But no immediate official action was announced by state leaders.

“Despite the President’s latest attempt to undermine our liberty,” Abbott said in a statement, “Texas will take every action to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Texas has a penchant for suing over Obama’s executive orders. But it’s unclear whether there are any plans in the works. Any lawsuit would probably be filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Asked if the AG’s office was pursuing one, Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said the office was “keeping a close eye on the issue.”

Paxton said in a statement that he stood ready “to fight back against any overreach that will deny or infringe on” the rights of gun owners.

In a post on his Facebook page, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said the announcement showed “why we need to elect a Republican President who will not overstep his authority and who will protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Obama tearfully announced his executive actions from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday. He said he plans to increase the number of vendors who are required to conduct criminal background checks when they sell guns. He said he will also hire more federal employees to handle those reviews and require dealers to inform federal authorities when a gun sold online is lost or stolen during transit. Obama also ordered U.S. attorney’s offices across the state to step up their domestic violence prevention efforts.

The Obama administration has said his actions are clarifications and interpretations of current law and that no actions from Congress are needed. And the ideas are modest compared with new gun control laws that Obama has tried and failed to pass.

Edwin Walker, president of Texas Law Shield, which provides legal services to gun owners, agreed that the orders were simply a clarification of how the law should be interpreted and enforced. Obama can’t add new restrictions, so the orders appear to be aimed for a purely political effect, Walker said.

“It really won’t change much,” he said. “However, what he is hoping it will do is ignite a fire” that spurs more legislative action on guns. 

The state would only have a reason to sue if the Obama administration were ordering the states to do something different than what they are currently doing.

“I don’t see anything in his orders that would do that,” Walker said.

But Texas leaders said Obama is going too far.

“The president may not personally like it, but we have the constitutional right to protect ourselves, our families and our businesses,” Patrick said. “If the president’s goal is to sincerely help protect Americans, he should make it easier to legally purchase, train and use their weapons of choice for protection than trot out phony new regulations to stand in their way.”

Republican members of the Texas congressional delegation also raised complaints.

“The president’s actions punish law-abiding citizens. Our country would be much safer if he were half as tough on criminals as he is on innocent Americans,” U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said in a statement Tuesday.

The order “is a blatant abuse of his executive authority,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas. “This is a misguided and unconstitutional power grab, and I will not stand for it.”

But U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, said that Obama’s actions would help reduce gun violence.

“The President’s decisive actions today will strengthen background checks, protect communities through better enforcement, improve mental health services, and fuel research to make guns safer,” she said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said Tuesday that Obama’s executive actions on guns “aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” reiterating his promise to repeal every “illegal and unconstitutional” executive order upon taking office.

“This has been the most anti-gun administration in the history of our country,” Cruz told reporters before a campaign event in Cherokee, Iowa.

Discussing the anticipated order on Monday, Cruz extended his criticism to Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, calling it “entirely backwards” that Obama and the former secretary of state want to impose new gun restrictions as the country faces the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.

“We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns,” Cruz said. “We beat the bad guys by using our guns.”

[This story originally appeared in the The Texas Tribune]

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Open Carry Arrives in Texas with the New Year, But Many Still Expect Lawsuits

Morgan Smith, Texas Tribune
As the New Year arrived, so did a new option for gun-toting Texans.

The state’s roughly 826,000 handgun license holders, who previously had to keep their firearms concealed, can now carry them openly in a hip or shoulder holster.

Across Texas, law enforcement officials, city leaders and business owners are bracing for lawsuits.

That’s because state officials have so far largely left interpretation of the new law, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in June, up to local authorities. Prosecutors and police chiefs across the state’s 254 counties will now each determine their own answer to what was one of the most hotly debated questions of the 2015 legislative session: whether police officers can ask those visibly carrying guns to present their permits.

“There is a difference of opinion about whether or not just the mere fact that someone is walking down Main Street carrying a pistol in a holster is sufficient probable cause for a police officer to insist on seeing their handgun permit,” said Kevin Laurence, the executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association. “We are going to wind up having to get court cases out of this defining exactly what authority police officers have.”

Heralding the new open carry law as a much-needed update to the state’s gun regulations, Second Amendment rights activists say it lifts a burden unfairly placed on law-abiding citizens.

“I believe the state is prepared for a smooth, simple transition from concealed to open carry, though I expect most people will continue to carry concealed,” state Sen. Craig Estes, the Wichita Falls Republican who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement. “I truly believe the new law will benefit all law-abiding Texans.”

But the legislation’s critics have warned it could have negative consequences for tourism, retail and public safety in the state.

And when it comes to enforcement, confusion reigns.

Laurence said his organization, which represents more than 22,000 Texas law enforcement officers at the state, county and local level, has advised police officers to seek guidance from their departments on how they should approach open carry — and whether they need some evidence or suspicion of criminal activity to ask to see someone’s gun permit.

“The biggest emotion going on out there is confusion,” he said.

While the law protects existing “gun-free zones” — school campuses, courthouses and certain public property, for example — there’s still some uncertainty about where such zones begin and end.

In September, state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who opposes open carry, asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton whether the law merely gave schools the authority to prohibit guns in buildings and classrooms, or whether that authority extended to all district property, including parking lots, sidewalks and driveways.

Attorneys for Hays and Tom Green counties both asked Paxton to clarify their authority to limit handguns in multipurpose government buildings that also house courts. Their question boils down to whether officials may only ban guns in rooms where court proceedings take place — or if they can bar them from an entire building if the building houses a courtroom, said Hays County Criminal Attorney Wes Mau.

Paxton offered some clarification on the new law in three advisory opinions issued on Dec. 21. He ruled that school districts could prohibit weapons on all district property, including sidewalks and driveways, but that local officials could only ban guns from courtrooms, not entire courthouse facilities.

Complicating matters for government entities is a second law legislators passed in 2015, one that imposes a fine on local officials who improperly ban handguns in public places.

But it’s not just government entities grappling with open carry. Businesses in Texas are choosing between allowing open carry of handguns — which can make patrons uneasy — or facing an angry backlash from gun rights activists if they don’t.

Shortly after the law passed, Whataburger announced it would not allow open carry in its restaurants. Targeted outrage and calls for a boycott of the San Antonio-based fast food chain led CEO Preston Atkinson to make a public statement on the policy.

He said that while the company supports the Second Amendment, it made the “business decision” not to allow open carry in its restaurants “a long time ago.”

“We’re the gathering spot for Little League teams, church groups and high school kids after football games,” Atkinson wrote. “We’ve had many customers and employees tell us they’re uncomfortable being around someone with a visible firearm who is not a member of law enforcement, and as a business, we have to listen and value that feedback.”

Under the open carry law, if a business wants to prohibit all handguns on its property, it must post two signs in English and Spanish, one banning concealed handguns and another banning open carry.

The new requirements — and the legal threat companies face for not complying — are especially burdensome for small businesses that lack corporate resources like an in-house lawyer, said state Rep. Diego Bernal, a Democrat.

Since October, Bernal has been distributing signs that meet state requirements to small businesses in his San Antonio district that wish to ban firearms.

“The state has zero plan to let people know what to expect — folks are kind of in the dark,” said Bernal. “There are going to be a patchwork of interpretations and probably a patchwork of lawsuits. It was so poorly done.”

[This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.]

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