'Open carry' supporters vow legal action after Arlington rebuke

Print
Email
|

by JIM DOUGLAS and TODD UNGER / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on May 14, 2014 at 7:18 AM

ARLINGTON, Texas — There was heavy police presence outside Arlington City Hall again Tuesday night, where "open carry" looked on as the City Council approved an amended ordinance banning pedestrians from handing out literature to motorists.

Open Carry Tarrant County often distributes copies of the U.S. Constitution. The ordinance applies only to certain busy streets.

Advocates for openly carrying firearms say Arlington is violating their First Amendment rights.

Mayor Robert Cluck said it's purely a public safety issue.

Nearly 40 OCTC supporters were at the meeting.  Many spoke against the proposed ordinance change during public comment.

Close to 20 people attended the meeting in favor of the law, including one woman who said she was approached by members carrying guns not to long ago when she was driving through town.

"It's impossible for anyone to tell if you're a person that has good intention, or if you intend to do harm," said Kim Martinez.

Kory Watkins, who helps lead OCTC, said a lot of members plan to still hand out literature when the law goes into effect in a couple of weeks.  Asked if he was willing to be arrested, Watkins replied "absolutely." 

Open Carry Texas, the statewide organization that spawned Open Carry Tarrant County, cut ties with the local group last week because of a disagreement on how their signature protests are carried out.

Both Open Carry Tarrant County and Open Carry Texas dispute a recent Fort Worth police report that a fast food restaurant worker hid in the freezer recently during a demonstration, or a "walk," as Open Carry Tarrant County prefers to call it.

However, Open Carry Texas has a policy that authorities must be notified in advance and that demonstrators should carry flags with the group's logo, according to founder C.J. Grisham.

"We're out there to make people feel comfortable. Whenever we do our events, we always let the police know," Grisham said, adding that the Tarrant County group's "desire to resist that effort" was harming the cause for more gun rights in Texas.

Open Carry Tarrant County says the 911 calls reporting the group are actually actually gun control activists who use 911 to harass the demonstrators. Tov Henderson of Open Carry Tarrant County blames the group "Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America."

"They're telling their members to lie to 911. To lie to police," Henderson said. "They have told their members to call 911 on us, and say they saw us waving our guns violently."

A spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action told News 8 they do not use 911 to harass.

The open-carry movement was launched last year when police arrested Grisham for interfering with police duties. He was walking in the outskirts of Temple, Texas, with an assault rifle over his shoulder when an officer approached. His son videotaped his arrest and broadcast it on YouTube, inspiring a wave of support for Grisham. 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 there are dozens of loosely affiliated offshoots, like Open Carry Tarrant County.

Texas has some of the most liberal gun laws in the country, but openly carrying handguns remains illegal. Open-carry groups are lobbying the Texas Legislature to change this rule.

Kory Watkins, the Tarrant County group's coordinator, said notifying police ahead of the group's thrice-weekly marches would contradict the statement they are hoping to make.

"We don't ask for permission or call anybody. We're trying to make this as normal as possible," he said.

Watkins, 30, ran as a Republican candidate for the Mansfield ISD school board, and advocates arming teachers and school administrators.

"I don't see why anybody would think a gun-free zone is a good thing," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

Print
Email
|