The most shocking news out of Austin last week was not that the Texas Senate really, really likes guns.
Nor was it that one senator leading debate called college students’ pistols “God-given.”
No, the most shocking news of all involved an insidious plague stalking the streets of Wichita Falls, robbing humans of their sanity, ruining lives and tearing families asunder.
According to state Sen. Craig Estes, a Wichita Falls fertilizer distributor, you are mentally ill if you’re afraid of guns.
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“I don’t have that phobia myself,” Estes told a Houston senator during the debate over his bill allowing the licensed open carry of handguns.
“If someone does have that phobia — I mean sincerely, clinically,” he told Sen. Sylvia Garcia, “I would think they need to get help.”
Estes went on to leave no doubt what he meant.
“I don’t think most people see a gun on someone’s hip and just immediately become fearful,” he said.
“… But I would say for someone that truly does have a phobia about that, then that maybe they should get some help one way or another.”
Obviously, Estes is a man of deep concern for his fellow Texans.
But gosh. They must have some awfully strange ideas about mental health in Wichita Falls.
I figured I’d better ask a professional.
“No, I can’t say that’s a common phobia we see here,” said Hannah Fryer, executive director of the Wichita Falls affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
If fear of guns is really a clinical phobia, she has never seen a single client.
“But you can have a phobia of just about anything,” she said.
A phobia is an irrational, debilitating anxiety, she said. (That’s as opposed to rational fear based on experience or observation.)
If anyone in Estes’ district, which stretches from Aledo to Wichita Falls, wishes to take the senator’s advice and seek treatment, the alliance stands ready.
“We would certainly do anything we could to help someone get the assistance they need, if that is their problem,” Fryer said.
Estes has written before how his generation of Texas children grew up learning about guns. He blames “modern society’s fear” for guns’ appeal to “deranged loners.”
Former Sen. and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, author of the 1995 handgun law, has used the fake medical term hoplophobic to accuse opponents of suffering from a mental illness.
At Texas Wesleyan University, therapist Linda Metcalf directs the graduate program for marriage and family counseling.
“‘Hoplophobia’ is not a valid diagnosis,” she said.
“But somebody might be afraid of what people would do with a gun. And yes, sometimes they may need professional help.”
Metcalf said such fears are rational if based on negative perceptions or experiences — “just look at the guy shot [March 5 in Dallas] taking pictures of the snow.”
If you fear someone with a gun, she said, “It doesn’t mean that you’re crazy.”
Only to the Texas Legislature.
Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538