ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas.
The amendment bars people from approaching motorists at high-traffic intersections and busy roads, which the group Open Carry Tarrant County says violates free speech by barring its members from passing out literature and pocket-size copies of the U.S. Constitution.
The group's coordinator, Kory Watkins, a Republican school board candidate, argues in the federal lawsuit that the amendment has had a "chilling effect" on the group's members. City officials, however, say the amendment to the 1994 ordinance was only implemented in response to the group's threats of a lawsuit.
"We made a revision to the ordinance to make sure everyone was treated equally," said Arlington's assistant city attorney, Robert Fugate. "They could be handing out bananas or copies of the Constitution. The content of what they're trying to do is not relevant."
Open Carry Tarrant County, which filed the lawsuit this week, is part of a statewide effort for less restrictive gun laws in Texas, including a push to allow the open carry of handguns.
The movement was triggered last year when police arrested Fort Hood Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham on a resisting arrest charge. He ultimately was convicted of interfering with police duties. He was walking in the outskirts of Temple, Texas, armed with a semi-automatic rifle when an officer approached. His son videotaped his arrest and posted it on YouTube, inspiring a wave of support for Grisham, who used the momentum to establish Open Carry Texas.
After being jailed briefly, he was tried and found guilty, and a jury fined him $2,000. He is currently appealing the verdict. In the meantime, Open Carry Texas has grown to 16,000 members, and has inspired dozens of loosely affiliated offshoots.
Texas has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, but openly carrying handguns remains illegal. In addition, gun holders can be charged with disorderly conduct if anyone around them feels threatened.
Open Carry Texas, Open Carry Tarrant County and other groups are planning a heavily armed appearance at the Republican Party of Texas' annual convention scheduled for next week in Fort Worth.
The activists' demonstrations, while peaceful, have nonetheless upset some witnesses.
The Chipotle restaurant chain asked customers this month not to bring firearms into its stores after members of Open Carry Texas brought military-style assault rifles into one of its restaurants in Texas.
Fort Worth and Arlington police responded to 911 calls earlier this month reporting that groups of men armed with rifles and shotguns had entered a fast-food restaurant in their cities.
Police escorted three Open Carry Texas demonstrators out of a San Antonio Starbucks last August.
Arlington kindergarten teacher Kim Martinez supported the city's amendment after she was approached by Open Carry Tarrant County activists on the road.
"When somebody's coming up to you in your car with a gun, it's impossible to tell if that person has good intentions or if they intend to do you harm," Martinez said.