Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texas Grand Jury Triggers Gun Debate GUN-BARREL BROUHAHA

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texas Grand Jury Triggers Gun Debate GUN-BARREL BROUHAHA

Article excerpt

TEXANS haven't been permitted to carry concealed handguns since shortly after the Civil War. But on Jan. 1, that prohibition was lifted and Texans have been trading shots ever since in a debate over firearms that is anything but civil.

The controversy was refueled last week when a Dallas grand jury refused to indict a licensed gun owner who shot another man after a minor traffic accident.

The grand jury found that Gordon Reid Hale III acted in self defense when he fatally shot Kenny Tavai on Feb. 21. The shooting occurred after Mr. Tavai's side mirror clipped Mr. Hale's pickup truck on a Dallas expressway. An argument ensued and Tavai began punching Hale in the head. Hale then reached for his .40-caliber pistol and shot Tavai, who died a short time later.

Advocates on both sides of the gun issue are using the jury's decision as fodder for the debate. But the case also raises questions about a peculiar Texas law that allows a person to use deadly force in self defense, if he or she hasn't provoked the threat.

Both debates carry resonance beyond the Lone Star State as concealed weapons laws spread across the country and states grapple with delicate issues of public safety and individual rights.

Beneath the brouhaha: Do concealed-weapons laws cut down on or contribute to violence?

"I don't think having that kind of killing happen in our state makes anyone feel safer," says Nina Butts, director of Texans Against Gun Violence. "The majority of Texans don't like to have lots of people running around with guns in their pockets."

Ms. Butts points to a recent opinion poll showing 50 percent of Texans oppose the concealed-weapon law while 44 percent of respondents favored it. "The concealed-weapon law isn't about safety; it's about selling guns," she says.

But Mark Seale, a spokesman for state Sen. Jerry Patterson (R) of Houston, who wrote the state's concealed gun bill, says the grand jury's decision in the Hale case "didn't concern him having a handgun license. …

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