Dallas shooting: Mayor says open carry laws made job tougher for police

As the shots rang out, open carry activists were incorrectly named as suspects

Feliks Garcia
New York
Monday 11 July 2016 16:32
Mike Rawlings on Face The Nation

In the wake of the tragic shooting in downtown Dallas that claimed the lives of five police officers, the city’s mayor criticised Texas’ open carry laws that he says made law enforcement’s job tougher as bullets rained down from rooftops.

“You know, in dealing with the law of gun holding, you can carry a rifle legally, and when you have gunfire going on, you usually go with the person that’s got a gun,” Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings said on CBS’ Face the Nation programme. “And so our police grabbed some of those individuals, took them to police headquarters, and worked it out and figured out that they were not the shooters.”

As the Dallas police scrambled to make sense of what was happening last week, they broadcast a photo of a “person of interest” – Mark Hughes, a black man in a camouflage T-shirt carrying a long rifle across his back.

Social media users quickly found video of Mr Hughes standing in the street, alongside other witnesses and fellow protesters, as the police were dealing with an active shooter situation. His friends immediately rushed to his defence and told press that he handed his apparently unloaded rifle to the nearest officer.

Mark Hughes was not the shooter.

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The Associated Press said Dallas police estimated about 20 or 30 open carry activists to be present at the 7 July demonstration. And in a scene where shots were ringing out and so many people were carrying firearms, law enforcement may have had trouble discerning who was a threat.

“But that is one of the real issues with the gun right issues that we face,” Mr Rawlings added, “that in the middle of a firefight, it’s hard to pick out the good guys and the bad guys.”

Dallas police chief David Brown expressed similar sentiments.

“Doesn’t make sense to us, that that’s their right in Texas,” Mr Brown told CNN. “For our officers, they were suspects. And I support that belief. Someone is shooting at you from a perched position, and people are running with AR-15s and camo gear and gas masks and bulletproof vests.

“They are suspects until we eliminate that.”

Beginning 1 January 2016, registered gun owners in Texas could begin carrying their firearm in the open without concealment, sparking ongoing debates as to the limits open carry has.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that allows registered gun owners to carry their weapons on college campuses – the University of Texas at Austin is set to comply with that law on 1 August 2016.

The law has met some resistance and raised significant concerns from educators at Texas schools. The University of Houston released a memo in February discouraging teachers from discussing “sensitive subjects” so as not to anger an armed student.

To President Barack Obama, the ubiquity of guns in Texas can only make matters worse, especially in an active shooter situation that Dallasites witnessed last Thursday.

“[Police] have a really difficult time in communities where they know guns are everywhere,” he said. “And as I said before, they have a right to come home, and now they have very little margin of error in terms of making decisions.

“So if you care about the safety of our police officers, then you can’t set aside the gun issue and pretend that that’s irrelevant.”

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