Bud Kennedy

Philando Castile shooting hits home with Texas gun owners

Allysza Castile, center, marches Thursday to protest the fatal shooting of her brother Philando Castile.
Allysza Castile, center, marches Thursday to protest the fatal shooting of her brother Philando Castile. The Washington Post

Maybe you think you know exactly how to behave during a police traffic stop.

Maybe you even have a bossy lecture about how people of another race wouldn’t get shot “if they’d just act right.”

Maybe you’d still get shot.

Police and handgun groups don’t even agree how licensees ought to react. And when an officer gets surprised, it’s the gun owner who gets shot.

Tarrant County’s presumptive next sheriff, firearms instructor Bill Waybourn, surprised me.

Keep both hands in sight, he said — no matter what.

“Avoid reaching where the officer cannot see your hands,” the 31-year suburban police chief wrote by email last week.

Even if the officer asks.

“If the officer asks for your weapon, tell the officer where it is and ask if he [or she] would get it,” Waybourn wrote.

(Waybourn, a Republican, will face Mansfield Libertarian Max Koch III in the November election.)

“Once a person’s hands disappear,” he wrote, “a threat could be coming.”

That’s advice that might have saved Minnesota handgun licensee Philando Castile, shot to death last week by a nervous officer in a St. Paul suburb.

On video after the shooting, Castile’s fiance said he had told the officer he was licensed and was reaching for his wallet and paperwork.

A lawyer for the officer, Jeronimo Yanez of St. Anthony, said Saturday that he reacted to the “presence and display” of a gun.

On Twitter, state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Gainesville, agreed with those upset at Castile’s death.

“He identifies himself,” Springer wrote: “He has a gun, daylight, family in car, broken tail light. This is so wrong!”

The National Rifle Association and its state affiliate were slower to respond. The NRA issued a statement saying only that “reports” are “troubling.” Alice Tripp of the Texas State Rifle Association said she didn’t know he was a licensee.

But Fort Worth lawyer Justin Sparks, an attorney for gun owners through his Sparks Law Firm and Houston-based Texas Law Shield, did not hesitate.

“If [Castile] were a middle-aged white male, the officer would never have shot,” Sparks wrote by email.

“He made the mistake of trusting the young officer by reaching for his license.”

Officers are supposed to tell licensees to keep their hands on the steering wheel, Sparks wrote: “Gun owners need to ask permission before doing anything, even reaching for your license.”

Former Army Master Sgt C.J. Grisham, founder of Temple-based Open Carry Texas, was even more emphatic.

Castile was “killed in cold blood, in my opinion,” he wrote by email.

Grisham, convicted in a 2013 case when he refused to surrender an AR-15 he was carrying legally, complained that officers view “gun owners as a threat rather than an ally.”

Waybourn had another bit of advice.

“Do not try to hold court on the side of the road,” he wrote.

It’s no time for talk.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.