May 13, 2014

Gun-rights activists say they’ll challenge Arlington ordinance

The Arlington City Council approves a list of busy streets and intersections where pedestrians may not approach motorists. But if a street is not on the list, pedestrians may solicit at will.

The City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday night to loosen a public safety ordinance regulating where pedestrians can hand out literature to motorists.

But members of a gun-rights group said the city is still violating the First Amendment.

“Nobody is getting hurt,” said Kory Watkins, a spokesman for Open Carry Tarrant County. “The role of government is not to keep me safe. It’s to keep me free. It’s to protect my liberties. The only person who can keep me safe is myself. I can do that better than anybody.”

Previously, Arlington’s ordinance banned pedestrians from standing on any sidewalks, medians or other public rights of way to distribute literature to motorists who were not legally parked.

But the amendment approved by the council prohibits people from handing out literature or objects only at specified busy intersections and roadways where pedestrians are already banned from selling merchandise or seeking rides, work or charitable contributions.

The vote was 8-1. District 3 Councilman Robert Rivera voted no, as he did last week when the revisions were proposed.

“Right now, under the ordinance, I couldn’t distribute literature where I live. [But] I could sell or solicit at that intersection,” Assistant City Attorney David Barber said.

“Now they would all be treated exactly the same. It makes it simpler for purposes of enforcement.”

Last month, Arlington police cited two Open Carry demonstrators for handing out pamphlets and pocket-size Constitutions at Collins Street and Road to Six Flags near the Lincoln Square shopping center.

Members told the council that they will risk being fined by continuing to hand out their gun-rights literature to motorists who want it. Several members promised to fight those tickets in court, saying the city is limiting their First Amendment rights.

“I’d rather you guys pass it and I’ll see you in court,” one of several speakers said. “Clearly, we are not being heard in this chamber.”

The changes in the ordinance are expected to take effect by the end of May.

It’s ‘common sense’

At its last meeting, the council unanimously voted to ban weapons or simulated weapons from being brought into City Hall or other city buildings where public meetings are being held.

Council member Charlie Parker said Tuesday that it should be common sense that people shouldn’t bring AR-15s or other weapons to City Hall, just as it should be common sense that it can be dangerous for pedestrians to walk into roadways.

“We will legislate common sense one more time,” Parker said. “The city of Arlington has laws that will be obeyed. If not, incarceration will occur.”

During the April 22 meeting, after the council voted 8-1 to approve the first reading of the streets and sidewalks ordinance amendment, opponents erupted in cries of “Tyrant! Tyrant!” The crowd was less vocal after Tuesday’s 8-1 vote to approve the amendment.

Rivera voted against the revision because of what he said were freedom-of-speech concerns.

The ordinance does not apply to firefighters, who are specifically allowed under state statute to collect charitable contributions from motorists during their Fill the Boot Campaign for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

At Tuesday’s meeting, House District 94 candidate Tony Tinderholt apologized to the council for an outburst at the April meeting. But Tinderholt said that if the council truly has public safety concerns, firefighters should be banned from soliciting contributions.

Before the vote, Councilman Jimmy Bennett paused to celebrate the first three words of the Constitution and the process of democracy established by the country’s founders.

“We the people,” Bennett said. “We can have our differences. This is the Constitution at work.”

Busy streets restricted

Section 15.03 of the newly amended streets and sidewalks ordinance lists busy streets and intersections, such as Abram and Center streets downtown, where pedestrians may not solicit, sell merchandise or hand out objects or literature to motorists who are not legally parked in a lot or street parking space.

Collins Street and Road to Six Flags in the entertainment district, where the Open Carry group has demonstrated several times, is one of the 124 intersections where such activity is not permitted within 500 feet.

Watkins said it makes no sense to try to hand out literature along streets with little traffic.

“We are trying to educate a large amount of people in a short amount of time,” Watkins said. “We are going to go to a high-traffic area.”

Large stretches of eight streets — including Abram, Collins, Cooper and Division streets — have been set off limits to pedestrians trying to interact with motorists.

Stretches of 16 streets in the entertainment district, including Convention Center Drive near Globe Life Park in Arlington, are off limits just at designated times, such as the hours before or after games and events.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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