On Monday, the number of mySA readers who “liked” a particular San Antonio Express-News story, having shared it on Facebook, had climbed to about 1,500 — an unusually high figure for the website.
The article, “Shopper who pulled gun at San Antonio mall within rights, cops say,” recounts a man's decision to pull a loaded, semi-automatic handgun during a Black Friday scuffle with another man inside a crowded Sears store at South Park Mall.
Presumably, online readers “like” the Police Department's determination that Jose Alonzo Salame, a concealed handgun licensee, did not break the law by pulling the weapon. Two noteworthy folks, however, dislike the fact that Salame brandished the gun.
One is Stella Moreno, a shopper who was standing a few feet from Salame's would-be target.
Another is state Rep. George Lavender, Republican from Texarkana, who says he plans to push for an “open carry” law when the Legislature convenes in January — certainly no yellow belly, even by Texas standards.
Let's start with Moreno. At Sears to score deals for her family, she was standing at a counter when the fight broke out in a nearby line.
Salame, 33, told police he pulled the gun after Alejandro Alex, 35, punched him. A witness said Salame pointed the gun directly at Alex, although a sergeant at the scene told reporters that Salame pointed the weapon at the ground.
“No, no,” Moreno told me. “I saw the gun. I saw the barrel. I didn't see it pointed down. If he would have missed, I think I would've been shot.”
Moreno says Salame kept pointing the gun even as Alex fled in her direction, prompting her to leap to the floor in terror. Other shoppers were shrieking and fleeing as well.
“I'm already thinking the theater bit,” Moreno said, referring to the massacre in Aurora, Colo., where a gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 in a movie theater.
She added, “You can carry (guns) inside a mall? I always thought this wasn't allowed in malls.”
In fact, licensees in Texas may carry concealed handguns in malls, unless a mall posts a sign that prohibits them and cites a section of the penal code that makes doing so a class A misdemeanor.
No such signs are posted at South Park Mall.
Since the Legislature passed a law in 1995 allowing Texans to carry concealed handguns, such signs have become more and more rare, says Alice Tripp, a lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association. The reason: Businesses don't want to lose customers, she says.
“Malls have taken their signs down,” she said. “Car dealerships, banks have taken their signs down.”
When I suggested that the incident at South Park Mall could have led to the loss of innocent lives, Tripp became animated.
“Think about what you're saying,” she said. “I'm being pounded on, and I'm not supposed to defend myself because suddenly I'm insecure that somebody who is close enough to me to hit me, that I might miss? I don't think so. I mean, that's silly.”
Lavender, however, thinks the mall incident was worse than silly — he believes it was dangerous.
(Lavender, recall, is the legislator who wants to make it legal for Texans to openly carry handguns: “Your response time is a little quicker if you don't have to reach down into your boot,” he said.)
“I think that's a bad situation to do it in,” he told me, noting the possibility bystanders such as Moreno could get shot. “I mean, if (Salame) was in an alley somewhere and a guy starts beating him up, sure, I get it. But in the mall, I think that's a bad thing, and that's just bad judgment.”
In other words: South Park Mall, get a sign.