Q: At a dinner party that my boyfriend and I recently hosted, one guest who is a new friend of ours showed up, much to our astonishment, wearing a pistol on his hip. Nobody said anything to him about it, but should a person in this situation be expected to announce that they’re packing heat? And is it okay to ask someone to leave their gun outside? What’s the etiquette here?
Amy Bryan, Plano
A: The Texanist loves himself a dinner party. And it’s not just because the cornerstone of such gatherings is almost always a tasty spread, though it’s no secret that the Texanist also enjoys a toothsome feeding. On top of the good vittles, however, dinner parties also typically involve good drink and good company, resulting, more often than not, in an overall good time. Thus, whenever the pleasure of the Texanist’s good company is requested at these sorts of grub-laden soirees, it’s rare that he doesn’t make himself available.
But while it’s true that the Texanist almost always arrives hungry enough to eat a bear, it’s also a fact that he never shows up loaded for bear—unless said dinner party happens to coincide with his annual bear hunt. The Texanist jests, of course; despite his love for the great outdoors, he’s never been bear hunting. And, though he is a pistol owner, neither has he ever arrived at a dinner party strapped.
In certain social circles, showing up to a dinner party with a deadly weapon upon one’s person is probably a perfectly normal thing to do. But in other circles, such as the one in which you run, Ms. Bryan, such an occurrence is apparently quite unusual. The Texanist’s deductive powers are suggesting to him that the dinner party you and your boyfriend threw involved an overlapping of these two entities—a gun-toting circle and a circle in which guns are not toted.
The Texanist isn’t old enough to remember a time when there were actual gunslingers roaming Texas’s frontiers and dinner parties, but he is, like everyone, well aware of the longstanding intertwinement betwixt Texans and guns. And yet, even so, the Texanist feels compelled to note that this reputation for gun-craziness is a tad overblown—or, more precisely, was a tad overblown. It’s complicated. Yes, it’s true that when Texas joined the United States in 1845 there wasn’t much in the form of gun control laws on the books; there was just a prohibition against enslaved Texans carrying guns without permission and a ban on dueling. So maybe the reputation for gun-craziness was well deserved during these times.
But after the Civil War things changed. In 1870, Governor Edmund J. Davis called on the Lege to do something with regard to what he referred to as “the universal habit of carrying arms.” The Lege responded and Texas, believe it or not, soon became the first state to bar the toting of handguns, initially at public gatherings such as entertainment events, church services, and polling places, and then, in 1871, anywhere in public, either openly or concealed.
Also frowned upon, just to note, were dirks, daggers, slungshots, sword canes, spears, brass knuckles, bowie knives, and “any other kind of knife manufactured or sold for the purposes of offense or defense.”
And this pretty much remained the case for some 125 years.
But in 1995 then-governor George W. Bush signed a law authorizing properly licensed individuals to carry concealed handguns. And then, in 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed off on allowing properly licensed individuals to openly carry handguns. (The prohibitions against various blades and brass knuckles have also seen a softening over the last few decades.) And now, in just a little over a month’s time, on September 1, it will be legal for pretty much any old sumbuck to strap on a handgun and, without a license or the least bit of training or even any common sense, go pretty much wherever the heck he or she pleases.
Emphasis there on “pretty much.” Because, as you surely know or suspect, there are a few exceptions to the state’s permissive attitude toward permitless gun-toting. Texans who have experienced mental health issues or engaged in certain criminal behaviors, for instance, may not be able to avail themselves of our lenient gun laws. And then there’s the matter of people who would prefer to keep their homes gun-free. Which brings the Texanist to the questions at hand—questions, he will note, that are fairly easily answered and, technically speaking, didn’t really require the interesting history lesson he has offered above. So, in re Question No. 1: while guests in someone’s private residence are not compelled by law to declare their arms upon arrival, it would, indeed, be the courteous thing to do (unless, of course, they know it to be a gun-friendly home). As for Question No. 2: the prerogative to inform a person that you’d rather not have them packing heat at your dinner party is, much like the decision as to whether to offer a separate salad fork and dinner fork, all yours.
The Texanist hopes that he has provided you with the answers you were looking for. And if he did so, perhaps you would like to show your appreciation for his efforts by inviting him to your next dinner party. He promises that if he were to be so honored, he would show up unarmed. For social occasions, the Texanist’s magnum of choice is typically a magnum of champagne, which produces a more welcome blast.
Thanks for the letter and be careful out there.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.