There’s little doubt that the Texas Legislature will ratify the ”open carry” of guns before it closes its 2015 shenanigans.

So it’s no surprise that the Senate has by a hefty margin enacted a bill that would strip municipalities of their present right to tame traffic with cameras that nail the reckless drivers who run red lights. We nearly lost a grandson this winter when he followed a green light into an intersection only to be rammed by a car running the red light. Our grandson’s light Prius was declared totaled, but the other car never stopped. Because our grandson happily was not injured, the police made no official record of the accident, never bothering to look for the other car. Fortunately, insurance replaced our grandson’s car, but his premiums will increase through no fault of his own.

Municipalities are acutely aware of this never-ending danger. But the lawmakers in Austin could care less, since they are shielded from dissent, or unfriendly opinions at home, by their super-majority of Republican incumbents. So the red-light runners, accelerating at every yellow light, will go largely running free of arrest, with the toll of injury and death untallied in meaningful detail by an unrepentant state bureaucracy.

That’s the quirky paradox of Texas politics, in which it is hardly alone among States: so much passion for rights, much less for life itself. Price is not easily computed on life in the Dallas Metroplex, when its population is growing a hundred-thousand a year.

But when it comes to rights, there’s nothing bigger in Texas than the 2nd Amendment. Never mind that it’s the most misconstrued article of the Bill of Rights. It’s premised on need for the Colonists to repulse continuing attempts by the British to recapture America, hence its predication on the importance of a native Militia. But that premise has never been lacking. Every State has built a proud National Guard, of volunteers, amply armed for any domestic menace, and proven time and time again in restoring order when in-state emergencies arise. Today, the National Guards collectively form the backbone of the American Army.

The majority of Americans grasp all this clearly. Nearly two-thirds of our homes are without firearms. But that hasn’t kept the National Rifle Association, with its pockets steadily fattened by gunmakers, from waging a constant blitz of the media, the legislatures and the Congress that would have visiting aliens believing that God loves guns. So who’s looking out for the peace of mind of the majority who would sleep better if their neighborhoods were gun-free? This might an opportunity for a new tax-free charity to push their cause. More families without guns undoubtedly would mean fewer lives erased or ruined by intentional or unintentional gun-play.

The idea that guns keep homes safer in this day of rocket and drone weaponry approaches the absurd. Weapons that can vaporize a whole residence in one shot are multiplying, and thanks to the NRA, no serious measures of regulation and protection are appearing.

Surely not in the Texas Legislature. We’ve already firmly resolved as mates, Dr. Bonny and I, that if we find ourselves dining in restaurants, when other guests appear packing heat on the hip, we will leave immediately, and make it clear to the owner that we won’t be back, if he continues to welcome “open carry” guests. And, it will be clear to any such guests that their open carry is exactly why we are leaving.

At the same time, I see open carry and demise of the red-light cameras as the same piece, in the Texas Legislature. Both are flat-out threats to public safety, and no serious data exist to prove otherwise. Both will go on running up deadly tolls, which Austin won’t be counted on to tally, as a public service. The only tallies most legislators follow are the percentages by which they win reelection. If death by gunplay or highway mishap means any more than road kill en route to keeping office and swishing about in Austin luxuries, we don’t hear about it. Maybe it’s because clear and serious minds are a vanishing luxury in Austin. So much passion there for small government, until it gets in the way.

Frank Mensel —May 2015


The Constitution has given representative government a bind the Founding Fathers never intended: an unelected official whose exercise of high office exceeds its intent, making him the most powerful lawmaker.

It could be any Justice of the Supreme Court, under the construct it presently bears. It gives the legal profession a sway over history that it hasn’t earned, and can’t because it is entirely human in its practice. Though the Constitution intended that Justice be served by the rule of law, we have instead in practice rule by the profession of the law. And it comes tainted with self-interest, underscored by the very human desire to eat well.

How else can the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision be explained? It held that a corporation has the same First Amendment protection that a person has, because a corporation qualifies as a person: after all,it is guided by a board of people. But any further resemblance is a long, long stretch. Does it have blue eyes, or brown? Does it part its hair left or right? Or is it bald? Who trims its toenails?

Moreover, how often does an individual’s wallet match a corporation’s? A few do. Here lies the crux. Some of the very rich are walking holding companies. They are twice leveraged by the First Amendment. When they speak as individuals, many admirers listen. They spin the same message then through their corporations, which are freed by Citizens United to spend whatever they please to do it.

It puts representative government and the Constitution in double jeopardy in the 21st century, with WeThePeople too easily drowned out by corporate power. Which is just the way the multinationals are playing it, giving them essentially a free hand in global trade, leaving American workers pitted against the cheap labor of Asia, paced by the state-funded factories of China, thus also saddling the American economy with mountainous trade deficits.

The corporate powers have little to fear, since the legal system and the law profession are too easily tilted by money. The CEOs haven’t gotten where they are by failing to see the advantage that comes of retaining the most prestigious and influential law firms to protect their interests. So however much Citizens United bends the Constitution, it hardly comes as a surprise from a panel formed entirely of highly esteemed practitioners from this system.

Always startling is that decisions of such weight come on 5-4 votes. Whoever casts the deciding vote, which often in this century has been Justice Kennedy, that unelected official bears the most decisive hand of both government and history. It makes a strong case for a constitutional Amendment that allows the Court to change existing law or establish precedent only by votes of 6-3.

That’s the standard by which treaties are made, by which vetoes are overridden: actions that stand only if they’ve been ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. Serious turns of the law should require the same margin. That way no unelected Justice could reign at any moment as the most powerful hand of government. That way the Constitution would keep the balance that tripartite government intends. And no Justice would ever loom larger than Justice itself.

Frank Mensel — May 2015