Long guns: The new accessory at the GOP state convention?

Posted Sunday, Jun. 01, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Some Republicans heading to the state GOP convention here next week plan to bring something they haven’t in the past — their long guns and black powder revolvers.

Leaders of the movement to make open carry of guns legal in Texas are asking supporters to attend the Texas Republican Party convention and tote their long guns or pistols outside the Fort Worth Convention Center.

And they’d like any delegates, alternates or guests to carry their weapons inside the convention as well.

“All delegates, I urge you to open-carry the whole time,” Kory Watkins, a coordinator with Open Carry Tarrant County, posted on Facebook. “I will be a delegate with my AK 47. Thomas Jefferson would be proud.”

Not so fast, city officials say.

They agree that it’s legal to have these weapons outside the convention center. But inside, it’s a different matter because there’s a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission license.

State officials have been reminding Texans that any business with a state permit to serve alcohol may not knowingly let people carry long guns.

“With this type of TABC license, the only type of weapon allowed into an establishment is concealed-carry and those on licensed peace officers,” said Kirk Slaughter, director of public facilities and events for Fort Worth. “The license doesn’t allow bringing in guns other than those that are licensed.”

Watkins said he will research the matter to make sure the city is properly interpreting the law.

But at a minimum, he said, he and others in the movement — who hope that state lawmakers will make either constitutional carry or open carry legal next year — will walk outside the building and talk to delegates about the need to change state law.

The Legislature passed Texas’ concealed-handgun law in 1995.

“We expect to have people there carrying weapons,” said Steve Munisteri, who heads the Republican Party of Texas. “It’s a Republican crowd and that’s a crowd that’s used to people packing.

“If the city and the convention center leave it up to us, we will allow open carry and, of course, anyone with a concealed-carry license.”

‘Get lawmakers’ attention’

Up to 11,000 delegates and alternates could arrive in Fort Worth for the convention — the country’s largest political gathering — which runs Thursday through Saturday.

Volunteers will host an open-carry walk outside the convention center at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Supporters hope to add a plank to the party platform that calls on state lawmakers to legalize open carry or constitutional carry, which would let gun owners carry their weapons without license or regulation.

“We are trying to make it an issue to talk about,” said Watkins, a delegate from Mansfield. “That way, when legislation rolls around next year, everyone is on the same page.”

Pastor Terry Holcomb, a delegate from San Jacinto and president of Texas Carry, said he will tote his fully loaded black powder revolver during the convention.

“We’re trying to continue the pressure on the issue,” he said. “We’re hoping to get lawmakers’ attention by open-carrying during the convention.”

National notoriety

Local open-carry groups have drawn national attention recently.

Just days ago, Open Carry Tarrant County sued Arlington, where officials made it harder for pedestrians to hand out literature to motorists at busy intersections.

In April, Arlington City Council members banned weapons or simulated weapons — including pre-1899 black powder revolvers, replica pistols or long-barreled guns that Texans may legally carry openly — from being brought into City Hall or other city buildings where public meetings are being held.

Open Carry Tarrant County also made national headlines after a misunderstanding at a Jack in the Box in Fort Worth prompted a 911 call expressing concerns about a group of men walking around with long-barreled guns.

“We cannot stress enough how a simple phone call to police prior to this demonstration and the use of easily visible signage could have avoided unnecessarily alarming the public,” police officials said in a statement after the incident at the fast-food restaurant at Sycamore School Road and the South Freeway.

Another demonstration at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Dallas gained attention when managers asked customers to “not bring guns into our restaurants, unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”

Officials with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission have reminded Texans that long guns aren’t allowed in businesses that sell alcoholic drinks. The business could lose its permit to sell drinks, and any person in violation could face criminal-trespassing charges.

As a result of the national attention, some leaders in the open-carry movement sent out a letter calling on supporters to curb efforts to carry long guns into Texas businesses.

“We ask that members take a step back and make an objective assessment of what we are trying to accomplish and help us get open carry passed for everyone,” according to the letter, jointly sent by Come and Take It Texas, Texas Carry, Gun Rights Across America and Open Carry Texas.

“We must be willing and able to recognize what works and what doesn’t, but we need your help to make these efforts a success.”

‘Plenty of security’

Munisteri said the party will follow state law on open carry in the convention center.

If it’s left up to the party, though, open carry will be allowed.

“We generally hire a couple of dozen police officers and other sergeants-at-arms,” Munisteri said. “We will have plenty of security there, and we don’t anticipate any problems.”

Slaughter said Fort Worth owns the convention center. A permit that allows alcohol to be served is issued to Trinity F&B Services, which is in charge of catering and concessions.

Even if alcohol isn’t served, the permit is in place. That means permittees may not knowingly let people carry long guns, said Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for the alcohol commission.

“The TABC permit at the convention center could potentially end up being canceled if this violation occurs,” she said.

Watkins said he and other open-carry supporters will respect private-property rights.

“We don’t ever want to trample on anyone’s property rights,” he said. “We want to abide by all the laws. But I want to look into it deeper.”

A CLOSER LOOK

Up to 11,000 Republican delegates and alternates will gather for their every-other-year state convention from Thursday to Saturday at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

Highlights:

•  Thursday: Features a tribute to and remarks from Gov. Rick Perry, as well as comments from other Republicans, including land commissioner nominee George P. Bush of Fort Worth

•  Friday: Featured speakers will include U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, as well as gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. Delegates will debate and adopt party rules.

•  Saturday: delegates will debate and adopt the party platform, hear speeches from candidates for statewide office and learn the results of the 2016 presidential straw poll.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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