In a press release posted to the Lone Star Gun Rights Facebook page Friday, Aug. 21st, a press conference to be held Monday the 24th was announced along with a class action lawsuit. If you have watched the News, social media or read a paper in the last year or two, then you have probably heard something about the Open Carry movement in Texas. You know, the gun rights activists who performed open carry walks with long rifles like AR-15s, AK-47s, shotguns and hunting rifles. They gained national attention when some national corporations got caught in the crossfire between their gun rights activism and the public relations pressures of some of the prominent gun control advocates. Starbucks, Chipotle and others were forced to take a public stand on the carrying of firearms in their establishments which immediately won them acclaim from one side and contempt from the other, regardless of which side of the issue they came down on.
What did NOT make much national news, was how some in law enforcement reacted to the open carry movement. Those law enforcement interactions have now become the focus of the announced class action lawsuit. Bear in mind, in Texas it is legal for someone to openly carry a “long gun” in public without needing a license, but they must be legally allowed to own a gun in the first place. It is also legal, without a permit, to openly carry pre-1899 black powder pistols or replicas, but not any sort of modern handgun which can only be carried concealed and requires a state issued permit to do so. Despite legally carrying legal firearms, antique firearms or fake/toy guns many of these advocates were in fact arrested on “other charges” such as disorderly conduct or criminal trespass. These arrests, viewed as unlawful harassment by the activists and in most cases the charges were dropped, are at the heart of the class action lawsuit being filed.
Of those named in the Press Release, five are active duty military or veterans, one of which being a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. Also arrested were a pastor and a small business owner, all of whom were law-abiding, upstanding citizens whose only apparent aberrant behavior was standing up publicly for gun rights in a way that made people uncomfortable and illustrated the absurdity of Texas gun law.
NOTE: In the spirit of full disclosure, I am from Texas and have witnessed this open carry movement in person. I have been on open carry walks and seen how these activists approach the public and conduct themselves firsthand. Contrary to how some of them have been portrayed in the media, I have witnessed nothing but safe and respectful conduct from people well-versed in their Constitutional Rights and in many cases better educated on State and Federal law than some law enforcement officials they encountered. It should also be noted that their encounters with law enforcement were not always negative, in fact more often than not the encounters were cordial and in many cases even supportive of their activism.
That being said, some in law enforcement who did not take kindly to the open carry activism, also were vocal opponents of the licensed open carry bill that passed the state legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Abbott this year. The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1st, 2016, only allows open carry for those who have a permit, like the current Concealed Handgun License, its passage puts Texas in a in the company of over 40 other states that allow open carry either with or without a permit. Only a handful of states remain that have no form of open carry at all, while 6 (about to be 7) states now have “constitutional carry” which allows a legal gun owner to carry a handgun openly or concealed without a license or permit.
We will keep you posted on Monday’s press conference and the progress of the civil action lawsuit. It appears that the passage of the limited open carry bill has done little to quell the desire of some to see their full rights to “keep and bear arms” completely restored.