I was going to call this story, "What To Do If a Gun McNutt Threatens You" as a parallel to my case study, What To Do If A Trump Supporter Threatens You but that looks too much like a joke. This story is no joke.
In March gun-rights activist Chris McNutt posted rants on Facebook about lack of movement on a Texas bill allowing gun owners to legally carry handguns without obtaining a state-issued license. McNutt, executive director of Texas Gun Rights, then drove to Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen's home about 50 miles south of Houston while Bonnen was in Austin and his wife and teenage sons were home. McNutt also visited the homes of Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock and Four Price of Amarillo.
Here's how the story unfolded. The first story is from March 30th in The Facts, a Brazoria County Texas paper. Emphasis mine
After McNutt posted his North Texas visits to social media, the Bonnen family got word the Department of Public Safety felt it would be appropriate to watch the Bonnens’ Lake Jackson home, said Kim Bonnen, the speaker’s wife.
“It’s very rattling as a parent to be sitting 240 miles away and get a text that DPS thinks it’s appropriate to put troopers at your house,” she said.
The Bonnens’ 14-year-old son was the only family member home when McNutt paid a visit Wednesday, Kim Bonnen said. There was no contact between McNutt and the child, she said.
“He chose to pull a tactic of intimidation and threat toward our families,” Dennis Bonnen said.
McNutt could find the speaker and the other representatives at the Capitol to give them whatever information he wanted to share, Dennis Bonnen said. The choice to visit homes where only wives and children are home shows instability and lack of character, Bonnen said.
“To create the impression that he’s willing to threaten my family is unacceptable,” Bonnen said.
Bonnen, a Republican who was elected Texas House speaker in January, said Friday that the activist’s “gutless intimidation tactics” exposed no-license carry as a bad idea, dooming the legislation.
After The Facts reported that Department of Public Safety troopers stopped Chris McNutt, executive director of Texas Gun Rights, in Bonnen’s neighborhood on March 27 Speaker Bonnen issued a written statement condemning the actions and declaring "Their issue is dead." Advocate’s actions kill bill allowing no-permit gun carry The Statesman
Representative Bonnen experienced the fear, terror and underlying threat of violence from gun-rights activists that are regularly used against their critics. The fear of violence is often dismissed by pro-gun activists and their supporters. They mock people who are concerned about armed men who show up at houses of gun-control activists and protests. "It's legal!" They will say. Gun-rights activists state proudly they go everywhere armed, then pretend that the implied threat of violence is an overreaction.
We can't see what rants McNutt or his group posted on the Facebook pages of legislators, or what emails were sent to them directly. We don't know what the Bonnen office staff heard in phone calls from Texas Gun Rights members. However, we do know that there was enough evidence for the DSP to have officers stationed at Bonnen's house. We also know what the Texas Gun Rights group has posted publicly. I've included some images from their Facebook page.
Legislators could understand intellectually that making guns legally available almost everywhere would have an impact on political speech, but it wasn't until a pro-gun legislator saw how this tactic of intimidation and threat was used toward his family, did he finally get it. Even the author of the legislation, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, condemned the action and said Friday he was canceling his request for a committee hearing on House Bill 357.
From The Statesman:
The author of the legislation, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, said Friday he was canceling his request for a committee hearing on House Bill 357.
“The issue is of great importance to me, but I refuse to act like it is still a possibility and continue to provide false hope to my constituents,” Stickland said in a written statement.
In a video posted Friday on Facebook, Stickland said he was “saddened by the acts of a few individuals that have stolen the conversation about legislation that I deeply care about.”
“There is never a time or place to physically threaten an elected official with violence,” he said. “It’s never OK to target their homes or personal businesses when you know they are not in town.”
Bonnen, a Republican, was in the state capital of Austin but his wife teenage sons were inside the home. He said McNutt's actions were a demonstration of "insanity" and called him an "overzealous advocate for criminals to get a gun."
"If you want to talk about issues and you want to advocate, you do it in this building. You don’t do it at our residences," Bonnen said. "Threats and intimidation will never advance your issue. Their issue is dead."
The language used by the Speaker was hard-hitting and specific. From The Dallas Morning News
“I could no longer watch as legislators and their families are incessantly harassed by fanatical gun-rights activists who think laws preventing criminals from carrying a gun should be repealed,” Bonnen said in a written statement.
“Their goal is to eradicate sensible gun policies by allowing anyone to carry a gun without a license and proper training — making it impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between law-abiding gun owners and criminals,” he said. “The fear and terror used to push this agenda has made it clear this is bad public policy.”
If Fox News viewers now see how the pro-gun activists intimidated pro-gun legislators, what kind of harassment and threats have legislators who are not pro-gun experienced? I went to the Texas Gun Rights Facebook page and pulled some images Before being accused of cherry picking this image order to be sensational, this order was how they were on the Facebook page on April 11th--a gun pointing at Rep Kyle Kacal's head. I have complete screen shots if they are taken down.
I'm not an advisor to groups in Texas who want to get laws that protect people from unstable people with guns, but if I was I would think that Bonnen's experience could be referenced during discussions of Red Flag Laws like HB 131 and SB 157. Texans could contact their legislators, like Bonnen, Burrows and Price with a message like this:
Remember how you felt when McNutt threatened your family? Not everyone can have police protection at their home, but you could make it possible to remove the guns from people who make threats to you or your family. HB 131 gives others who are threatened a tool for swift protection of themselves or their family. Extreme Risk Protective Orders and Red Flag laws save lives. Vote yes on HB 131.
Showing legislators how lax gun laws have personally put themselves and their families in danger, and then giving them a bill to pass to protect their families and constituents, is a good method to get change.
It's Not About Dropping Off Flyers At Legislators' Homes. It's About The Guns
McNutt called the story a "media hit piece." I watched his response video. I listened to him on the Todd and Don Show. Where he stated that "Texas Gun Rights does not support any threats of violence, never has, never will." Great, nice to hear. But what McNutt failed to do was address his actions in the context of what he and his group say on their site and Facebook page.
What the legislators who voted to enable more people to carry guns in more places don't want to say is,
"We know the implied threat. You might be carrying a gun. We voted to make it legal for you do to that, but we didn't expect you to threaten our families!"
McNutt broke the unspoken agreement with pro-gun legislators. He also broke a man code, because he went to homes when the legislators were gone and only women and children would be there. The pro-gun legislators can't say, "People should never carry guns at protests and when canvassing," since that would go against what they voted for. So instead they focus on how it wouldn't be a fair fight, since the armed man of the house isn't there to scare away the other armed man, shoot first if they feel threatened or shoot back after the other armed man missed.
So what is the answer to the fear of legally armed people coming to your door trying to convince you of their ideas? Increase restrictions on who can carry guns and where.
But for the pro-gun legislators to do that would be to admit the frightening world they have created. Their answer is armed guards for the people in the home, armed spouses and children. There are other answers than OFFENSIVE weapons to deal with a treats. Especially considering the additional danger of guns in the home.
McNutt's actions exposed the unspoken agreement of pro-gun legislators to ignore the implied threat of armed protesters. McNutt did the gun control movement a huge favor. By giving pro-gun legislators an opportunity to walk away from extremist behavior. Was it planned? Perhaps, from The Texas Tribune "It was a setup": House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, gun rights activist come face-to-face at Texas GOP fundraiser Maybe.
Will the legislators who killed the bill be punished for it from their base? Hard to say. I read a lot of comments where pro-gun people said it was a stupid move and blame McNutt for killing "constitutional carry for years." They might maintain their base, many of whom also dislike extremists.
This McNutt action can also be used to remind pro-gun legislators of what to do the next time armed pro-gun extremists show up at protests. Like this guy at a Beto rally.
In the past when armed protesters showed up at a Bonnen or Strickland rally, they might have been comfortable thinking, "They are on my side. I have nothing to fear."
But things are different now. This is the time to change that law. Guns have no place at any rallies. The pro-gun Legislators could start with banning guns at theirs. They know who to blame, "McNutt ruined this for you."
They then could extend the restrictions to other situations. Like large events. Remember July 7, 2016 in Dallas? Mark Hughes carried his AR-15 rifle during the protest. When shooting started, it was confusion and chaos. From The Dallas Morning News
Senior Sgt. Chris Dyer, president of the Dallas County Sheriff's Association, said large cities like Dallas should pass ordinances that would ban the open carry of firearms during large events like protest marches.
"Normally in a protest, you're going to have two opposing sides at least," he said, noting that tensions can result in violence.
Bringing guns into that situation, Dyer said, is "very distracting" for officers.
"Even open carry proponents will see the common sense in restricting open carry in environments like a protest," he said.
Now that pro-gun legislators were threatened they know how others feel. They can choose a different action going forward. While it might look like they are going against their base, they are really pushing back against a small extremist group whose actions are condemned by the majority of gun owners.
People often give up hope on Texas having sensible gun laws, but I don't. This recent response shows that there are rational legislators who aren't led by fanatical gun-rights activists.