Gun-rights activists who petitioned the Arlington City Council on Tuesday to strike down an ordinance that they say restricts their freedom of speech were stunned to find their public speaking time limited.
Several members of the Tarrant County chapter of Open Carry Texas were also upset when Arlington police would not let them bring pre-1899 black powder pistols or replica pistols — which they are allowed to carry openly under state law — into the council chamber.
“That is something a tyrant would do. It’s just absolutely disgusting,” said Daniel Wood, who was applauded by other members when he referred to Mayor Robert Cluck’s decision to limit the group’s total speaking time to 30 minutes, no matter how many speakers were present.
Cluck responded: “I’m sorry. That’s up to me.”
Last month, police ticketed two group members for handing out pamphlets and pocket-size U.S. Constitutions at Collins Street and Road to Six Flags near the Lincoln Square shopping center. Police said Wood and Mason Yancy violated an ordinance prohibiting anyone from standing or walking on street corners, sidewalks and medians to hand out literature or other items to people in vehicles that are not legally parked.
Open Carry Tarrant County wanted to voice its concerns during the nontelevised public participation portion set aside at the end of council meetings. Typically, each public speaker is granted two minutes.
In total, 11 speakers addressed the council during the group’s allotted 30 minutes.
The city attorney’s office and Police Department are reviewing the ordinance. Council members could not respond to speakers during the public participation portion because the topic was not legally posted on the agenda.
Open Carry Texas’ mission includes lobbying legislators to enact less-restrictive gun laws, educating residents about their right to openly carry shotguns and rifles safely, and helping the public feel comfortable around those who do. Open Carry Tarrant County has held numerous demonstrations around businesses and public places throughout the county since last year.
On March 27, officers were dispatched to investigate a gathering at Road to Six Flags and Collins Street after the city received four 911 calls about people walking around with rifles or shotguns, said Lt. Christopher Cook, a police spokesman. Officers asked group members to stop walking into the roadway to distribute literature, but at least two members continued to, Cook said.
Wood and Yancy each received a Class C misdemeanor citation.
Yancy told council members that he did not intend to pay the $171 fine. He said that he is being treated differently for exercising free speech and the right to bear arms and that he wants the Police Department to handle its interactions with the group more professionally.
“We are here and we are going to stay. I will not leave. I will stand,” said Yancy, who plans to run for mayor when Cluck’s term is up in 2015.
Mark Nash, who said he openly carries his 1851 replica of a .44-caliber Confederate Navy Sheriff revolver almost daily, was among several members who disputed the city’s public safety claims as justification for enforcing the ordinance.
“We don’t run out into the street. Every time, the car is stopped at a stop sign or a red light,” said Nash, 30, of Roanoke. “We are really safe about it.”
Open Carry Tarrant County members also raised fairness concerns since Arlington firefighters were allowed to solicit donations from motorists as part of their Fill the Boot campaign that same day. A state statute allows the city to grant permission for its employees to stand in the roadway to collect charitable contributions under certain circumstances.
Some activists also took exception Tuesday when they were met at the council chamber front doors by police officers who said they could not bring guns inside the meeting.
“We cannot expect our officers to take their word for it that they are not carrying a real firearm,” Cook said. “Firearms are not going to be allowed into the council chambers. They would raise community concern.”