AUSTIN — If he were running for governor of New York, Democrat Bill White would probably be considered a pro-gun enthusiast. He's got a shotgun and a 9mm pistol, opposes any new laws on firearms and says he'd like to sign up some day for a concealed-weapons permit.
But this is Texas, where incumbent Rick Perry recently shot a coyote while out jogging and enjoys hunting deer with a bow and arrow. The love of weaponry is so ingrained in state culture that having a legal permit to carry a handgun will get you waved through the Texas Capitol security lines without going through a magnetometer.
Against that backdrop, the former Houston mayor heads into the 2010 governor's race playing defense on a powerful political issue. The biggest liability for White is his past membership in a New York-based gun control group. White says he resigned after finding its positions too restrictive, but his participation in Mayors Against Illegal Guns riled up those who live to preserve Texas' pro-gun culture.
"Anywhere in the civilized world you would be able to make the argument that everybody should be able to be against illegal guns. But we're not in the civilized world. We're in Texas," said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson.
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White only needs to look a few years back to find candidates who have lost campaigns over the issue. The last Democrat who was elected governor, Ann Richards, lost her re-election bid in 1994 in part after opposing concealed-handgun legislation and vetoing a referendum on it.
George W. Bush signed the bill into law in his first year after defeating her to become governor.
As mayor of Houston, White joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that supports individual gun rights, but wants more controls on gun show sales and other issues.