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Texas' Open Carry Makes it Hard to Tell Good Guys from Bad Guys

  • Wayne Lee

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2015, file photo, Scott Smith, a supporter of open carry gun laws, wears a pistol as he prepares for a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, in Austin, Texas.

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2015, file photo, Scott Smith, a supporter of open carry gun laws, wears a pistol as he prepares for a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, in Austin, Texas.

Police response to last week's ambush killing and wounding of fellow officers and civilians at a protest rally in Dallas, Texas, was complicated by an inability to differentiate protest participants from the active shooter.

Dallas police estimated 20 to 30 rally participants carried rifles and handguns in compliance with the state's open carry gun law.

"We're trying as best we can as a law enforcement community to make it work so that citizens can express their Second Amendment rights," Dallas Police Chief David Brown told reporters Monday.

"But it is increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s slung over and shootings occur in a crowd … and we don't know if they are the shooter or not. We don't know who the good guy is versus who the bad guy is if everybody starts shooting," Brown added.

FILE - A Dallas policeman keeps watch on a street in downtown Dallas, Thursday, July 7, 2016.

FILE - A Dallas policeman keeps watch on a street in downtown Dallas, Thursday, July 7, 2016.

At a memorial site in front of the Dallas Police Department, people continue to gather to mourn the loss of the officers.

As Stephanie Wesson of Carrollton, Texas, paid her respects to the fallen policemen, she told VOA that law-abiding citizens should be able to openly carry a weapon. "As long as you are within the law and you are not committing a crime, I'm ok with it," she said.

'Thin piece of fabric'

Texas legalized concealed carry firearms in the 1990s, and now has more than 850,000 residents with licenses to carry firearms. Last year, the state legislature passed a law that gave those with concealed carry licenses the option to carry firearms unconcealed.

Licensed residents in Texas should be able to openly carry firearms as long as they "use them in a respectful manner to protect themselves and their families … and not use them for any ill gain or evil intent," said Roselyn Walton, as she visited the police memorial site.

The president of Open Carry Texas, C.J. Grisham, joined a small gathering Saturday outside the Lamar County Sheriff's Department in Paris, Texas, about 158 kilometers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The crowd, most of whom had handguns and spare magazines strapped to their belts, was protesting the department's refusal to allow people to openly carry firearms into the building.

"We are not a threat," Grisham said.

Grisham told the gathering that the hot Texas weather can make it uncomfortable to conceal a gun under clothing.

"That's what this is really about: being able to get comfortable and not become a criminal," he said. "If you boil it down, the only difference between open carry and concealed carry is a thin piece of fabric."

FILE - Gun rights supporters gather at a Guns Across America rally at the Texas state capitol in Austin, Texas, Jan. 19, 2013.

FILE - Gun rights supporters gather at a Guns Across America rally at the Texas state capitol in Austin, Texas, Jan. 19, 2013.

Here is more information about open carry gun laws in the U.S.:

What are open carry gun laws?

Open carry gun laws in the U.S. are generally designed to give citizens the right to openly carry firearms in public places.

They are governed on the state level and not by the federal government, which may, however, enforce specific rules that apply to federally owned or operated property.

Which states allow handguns to be carried openly?

Thirty-one states allow handguns to be carried openly without a permit, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Fifteen states allow handguns to be carried openly, but only with a permit.

Only five states — California, Florida, Illinois, New York and South Carolina — as well as the District of Columbia prohibit the open carrying of handguns in public places.

Many state open carry laws have exceptions, such as the prohibition to carry handguns in places such as schools, state-owned facilities, on public transportation and places where alcohol is served.

Which states allow long guns to be carried openly?

Openly carrying a long gun is legal in 44 states, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Two states — Virginia and Pennsylvania — allow long guns to be carried in public, but limit the ability to do so in certain cities.

Six states — California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey — as well as the District of Columbia, generally prohibit the open carrying of long guns.

Michael O'Sullivan contributed to this report.

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