Back in January, commentators had a good chuckle when Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott posted online ads saying, “Keep your guns, come to Texas.” Subtle as a strip club flier, it was a pitch to residents of New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo had recently signed new gun-control measures into law following the Sandy Hook massacre.
To be fair, Abbott—who’s maybe-probably running for governor in 2014—was being tongue-in-cheek, telling Reuters that the ads were “a way to tweak our liberal friends up in the Northeast.” Git’em, General! But, seriously, did any New Yorkers actually accept the offer? Abbot’s office only responded once to my several inquires and even then said I’d need to contact the “campaign” office, whence the ads originated. That office, it would seem, was too busy kinda-maybe running a campaign to call back.
Set aside, for a moment, this bit of Annie Oakley-style political theater: New Yorkers really are emigrating to Texas (and the South) in droves. According to a 2009 survey of tax records, nearly 57 percent of New York migrants moved to the South, beating regional runner-up, the East Coast, by about 20 percentage points. Texas, alone, experienced a 34 percent increase in New York immigrants between 2005 and 2010. It’s the second most-popular relocation destination for New Yorkers, falling a little short of the half a million Ratso Rizzos immigrating (of course) to Florida.
No commentator, sane or otherwise (they’re all crazy), thinks the migration is due to lax gun laws. Yet, with thousands of people making the move, at least a few of them had to be packing their bags in order to freely pack heat. I wanted to find such a principled and dedicated person, if he or she (but probably he) existed. So I went to the one place where you can find anything and everything. I went to Craigslist.
After Cuomo signed the new SAFE laws on Jan. 28, Mike P. of Buffalo, New York—who says he owns “all kinds of guns”—finally had enough. Mike P. was looking for a way out. He wrote a post on Craigslist to the citizens of Texas, asking if they knew of any available work, and maybe some available land. His wife had sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry asking the same.
“It is something I am seriously considering and it’s a horrendously large decision for someone who’s at where I am in my life,” Mike P. told me after a few email exchanges. “But I’ve had it with New York state for a while.”
Considerations include his sixteen years in the New York State pension system—Mike P. is a grudgingly gunless school security officer; his wife, a Spanish teacher. The P. family would also suffer an estimated $40,000-a-year loss if they moved. Then there’s the apolitical daughter, who’d prefer not moving away from her friends. Because, outside of school, nine-year-olds have no principles.
Although Mike P. is still in the pre-planning stages, a few gun-loving carpetbaggers actually are moving to firearm-friendly Texas. For Providence resident Robert Farago, Rhode Island has become too “toxic” for gun owners such as himself, and not just because he’s surrounded by a bunch of paint-sniffers from the local design school. Guns & Ammo recently ranked Rhode Island the ninth worst state for gun laws. Granted, not as bad as New York, which G&M targeted as the absolute worst state for gun rights, but still.
“The thing is this,” said Farago, who’s moving in the next four months, ”I don’t want to live in a place where I’m not welcome. And in Rhode Island, gun owners are generally not welcome anymore.”
“Not welcome,” is not some gun-nutty delusion. Farago was recently accosted by two men at a restaurant, demanding to know why he was personally assisting in the genocide of America’s children. Farago said this kind of idiotic affront (what moron accosts a man who exercises, and publicly documents, his right to pack heat?!) has happened before.
The popular website Farago oversees, The Truth About Guns (TTAG), is “coming up to about a million dollars a year in revenue,” and he was recently profiled by The Washington Post. Joining Farago in Texas will be TTAG’s managing editor, Dan Zimmerman, as well as Farago’s young daughter, who—like Mike P.’s brood—may object to the move, but is still too young to inflict the kind of irrecoverable emotional damage a full-fledged teenager is capable of. Thankfully, Farago offered to post my query on his site, should other grown-ass adults have opinions on the drastic decision to move to warmer, shootier climates. A few replied. Most were fine with their first name being used. One wished to remain anonymous.
Chicago Ron told me he recently bought land and is building a house near San Antonio. Delawarean John E. moved alone to Dallas. An anonymous New York City-slicker is relocating in the next three to four years (his Fortune 500 company has an Austin office). All three are middle-aged. David, a 27-year-old originally from California, is the only one with family in Texas. Three work in the I.T. field. They’re all men. All white.
For the anonymous New Yorker, Gov. Cuomo’s SAFE law was a “tipping point. A California native named Joshua O. said he moved “strictly because of my love for firearms”—though he went to Oregon, not Texas. One of the guys even turned me onto The Walking Toward Freedom Forum, a support group of sorts for libertarian types that want to get the hell outta Dodge (the one in Nanny State, not Kansas). Not everyone, however, is so single-minded in their reasoning. People often have numerous considerations for moving—taxes, crime rate, etc. For the men I talked to, as well as a number of posts from forum members, a friendly gun culture just happened to be one of the criteria. Folks like David, who began acquiring firearms as an adult in California , eventually moved to Texas for the same economic reasons mentioned by Farago, John E. and Mike P. Farago’s only addendum to this, the reason he chose Texas specifically, was “good [travel] connections to the rest of the country … and some of the prettiest women in the world.”
Farago’s absolutely right in the last regard, but the South’s “firearm culture” ain’t exactly the gun-rack-in-every-single-pickup stereotype it’s made out to be. True numbers of gun owners are difficult to come by, but in general, firearm ownership is in decline nationwide. The only reliably figures to pull from are items like Gallup’s survey of self-reported gun-ownership and the FBI’s decrepit National Instant Criminal Background Check System. According to the Gallup poll, the South does have more gun owners (54 percent) overall than any other region. But reading the Daily Beast list of states with the most gun-owners—they used the FBI’s stats—only two Southern states, Kentucky and West Virginia, crack the top 10 (Texas was ranked No. 31). Even in Guns & Ammo’s list, only two SEC states made it into the Elite Eight, with Texas coming in at No. 15, just behind South Carolina.
So why Texas? Why The South? A cursory look shows that the “best” states for gun owners are actually the western areas where buffalo used to roam. For one, the women-to-livestock ratio in Texas is much more agreeable than that of states like Montana. You also never hear anyone say they’re moving to South Dakota for its cultural wonders. Oddly enough, it was the David, the 27-year-old, who was most succinct about his 2nd Amendment reasons for moving to Texas.
“Most of the gun culture has a strong tradition of independence and personal freedom, and Texas more or less exemplifies this,” he said. “And quite frankly, that’s why I’d never want to leave.”
With that kind of attitude, it may be time to reconsider the ole cold-dead-hands line. Something appropriately sensible, like, “You can have my gun ... when I get a job offer and a decent U-Haul rate.”
Jeff Winkler is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter at @ThatWinkler.