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Special Report: Open Carry - 12 News KBMT and K-JAC. News, Weather and Sports for SE Texas

Special Report: Open Carry

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Matt Harrell knows his guns.

"This a Mk. 18 Mod. 1 clone," Harrell said of his prize semiautomatic rifle when we visited him at his home in Lumberton. "It's how I protect my family."

A former infantryman in the Marine Corps who served two combat tours in Iraq, Harrell now teaches marksmanship classes on the side while working at a rubber plant in Port Neches.

He is a staunch supporter of his right to carry his rifle openly in public. He attended an open carry rally held in Beaumont January 18, where dozens marched down Dowlen Road with long guns slung behind their backs in an effort to educate the public on open carry laws.

"Before the Derek Poe incident, most people had no idea that it was even legal to carry a rifle in the open," said Harrell.

Harrell is referring to the same Derek Poe who was charged with disorderly conduct after carrying an AR-15 behind his back through Parkdale Mall last December. Poe says he was completely in his right to do so.

Under Texas law, a person can be charged with disorderly conduct if he or she "displays a firearm or other deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm".

"That's up to interpretation," says Harrell. "The police were in their right to charge him, they can and did, (Poe) was in his rights to carry the firearm, he can and did... and it comes down to a jury sometimes."

While exercising their right to open carry rifles can prove to be challenging enough, Harrell says he's one of what he calls a growing number of Texans who want more.

"We want open carry of handguns (legalized) like most other states have," said Harrell.

"We can already open carry rifles in the state of Texas, so why not handguns? They do it in many other states," Derek Poe told 12News.

According to opencarry.org, Texas is one of only 5 states, and the District of Columbia, that does not allow some form of open carry of handguns.

Harrell believes that if people are allowed to carry their pistols on their hips, in plain view, that it would cause a drop in violent crime rates.

"If I'm open carrying, and you still attack me, that just blows my mind. It's a deterrent," he said.

But not everybody thinks expanding open carry to handguns is a good idea. On our 12News Facebook page, one viewer writes, "Open carry pistols is for hot dogs, most the CHL holders I know are fine with the current laws."

Another viewer writing,"…seeing people openly carrying weapons… is barbaric (having them concealed seems smartest)".

"If you're going to be an asset to society and you want to open carry, you owe it to everybody around you to have the proper training and the proper equipment to pull it off safely," said Harrell. "I think that for the people of Texas, it's time. I think that they're ready, and it just takes someone to push it off."

That person just might be the next governor of Texas. Both frontrunners, Republican candidate Greg Abbott and Democratic candidate Wendy Davis, support expanding gun rights for Texans. Davis came out just last week saying that she supports open carry of handguns, which Abbott also supports.

12News asked Texas State Representative for District 22, Joe Deshotel, how he feels about the issue.

"I don't have a strong feeling about it either way," said Deshotel. "I'm not afraid of guns... personally I think I would want to know whether somebody is carry a gun on them."

Deshotel added that at this time, he's not sure how he would vote on the issue.

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