North Texas Daily

Behind the scenes of Open Carry Texas

Behind the scenes of Open Carry Texas

Behind the scenes of Open Carry Texas
July 08
14:34 2014

Joshua Knopp // Senior Staff Writer

It was a typical Open Carry Texas rally. Protestors were out and about doing everyday activities with rifles strapped to their backs. There was a firearm-friendly store, Home Depot, in the area that had invited them. And Jack In the Box employees were hiding in the freezer because they thought they were being robbed.

Why is this typical of Open Carry rallies? Because it may have never happened.

Open Carry Texas is an organization that protests Texas gun laws by carrying rifles and black powder pistol replicas openly. They want carrying handguns openly to be legal as well.

The rally on May 6 was one of many that caused an uproar and was pointed to as an example of the movement’s scare tactics, with the detail about employees hiding in the freezer placed prominently in a “New York Times” story and frequently re-Tweeted by the movements’ opponents.

But that detail, which came from an email from Fort Worth Police sergeant Ray Bush, was flatly denied by Jack in the Box representatives. The only 911 call from the incident came from a concerned bystander who had just driven away from  the Home Depot.

Open Carry representatives say they have been careful to not break any laws, and that all they want is to get their message out. But they say stories about them have often been blown out of proportion.

The movement started in March last year on a similar misunderstanding. C.J. Grisham was hiking with his son in the rural area around Temple, Texas. Out of fear of hogs and cougars in the area, Grisham brought his rifle with him for the hike. It is legal in Texas to openly carry long arms and black powder pistols without a license, so he didn’t think there would be any problem. Grisham was also carrying a concealed handgun, for which he held a license.

A Temple police officer, Steve Ermis, flagged Grisham down on the side of the road and asked him what he was doing and why he had a rifle on him. Dashcam video released in November shows that Ermis touched Grisham’s rifle early in the encounter. Grisham, who will retire from the Army as a master sergeant after 20 years of service this October, felt threatened and instinctively grabbed the rifle away. Feeling threatened himself, Ermis pulled out his weapon and arrested Grisham.

After his arrest, Grisham started the Open Carry movement to do two things — raise awareness about what is legal to carry in Texas and to attempt to pass legislation making it legal to openly carry handguns. Texas is one of only six states where carrying an unconcealed handgun without a license is illegal, and it is the only state where carrying a longarm is legal but carrying a handgun is not.

“There was a lot of ignorance on the part of the people that called the police and the officers who approached me,” Grisham said. “Then I realized how hypocritical it was that I could walk around with a modern sporting rifle, but not a handgun.”

The goal of Open Carry protests is to change that law and allow Texas residents to openly carry handguns. According to public relations representative Tov Henderson, they’ve made more headway on this goal than anyone before them.

“The NRA and Texas State Rifle Association have been pushing behind the scenes to get our legislature out of committee,” Henderson said. “In the one year of us being around, we’ve actually had a special committee hearing. They met specifically for us.”

In May 2013, they found some success when the state government passed a bill that requires a concealed handgun holder to “intentionally display” his gun to violate the law, rather than “fail to conceal it.” This was a concern for concealed carry holders, as they could have been punished for leaning the wrong way to reveal their weapon in their jacket, for instance.

Henderson said 99 percent of their in-person interactions in Texas have been positive. He and Grisham said most of the outcry is coming from national sources and a vocal minority within Texas.

Despite this, the movement has seen several national chains, such as Chipotle and Starbucks, welcome them, but then request they leave their weapons at home after becoming the center of a firestorm.

Part of this is due to Open Carry’s primary opposition, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national grassroots gun control organization that started after the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012. Texas chapter representative Claire Larson said the group was important in getting Chipotle, Chilis and other chains to request customers leave their guns at the door.

“We don’t believe that we need to encounter individuals openly carrying loaded firearms at the places we go with our children,” she said. “Particularly here in Texas, where there is no background check, training, or permit required to open carry, there is no way to tell the difference between a good guy with a gun and a bad guy with a gun.”

Larson said the group supports the Second Amendment, but thinks firearms need to be better regulated with universal background checks for purchase and strong laws on preventing children from accessing guns.

In the wake of news about people walking into stores with rifles and the stores being OK with it, Moms Demand Action has been flexing its economic power, with protests such as Skip Starbucks Saturday helping force the chains to request to be gun-free.

Grisham said the group’s new policy is to not bring their weapons in unless asked by a local store owner who supports them, and that they had always tried to communicate to shops they would be dining in beforehand.

Grisham said a famed encounter at a San Antonio Chilis, in which a mother called the group “dumbasses” at the store’s entrance, was one of the first times the group had not called the Chilis location in advance because their plans had changed.

Workers at the Chipotle in West End, where protestors were photographed last May, said it was just like any other day. The protestors came in, put their weapons down, ate, posed for pictures and left. The outcry came afterward. The workers requested not to be identified by name.

Feature Image: Open Carry Texas founder C.J. Grisham shows off his “Punisher” edition AR-15. Grisham says the group often performs community service for its protests, including trash cleanup and food drives. Photo by Joshua Knopp – Senior Staff Writer

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