May 22, 2014

Gun-rights activists: No more long guns in businesses

Leaders are afraid that focusing on the issue will detract from someday making it legal to openly carry handguns in Texas.

Don’t carry long guns into Texas businesses.

That was the message that gun-rights groups delivered Thursday to tens of thousands of supporters statewide through an open letter released to the media.

If that’s not enough incentive, officials remind Texans that long guns aren’t allowed in businesses that sell alcoholic drinks. Any business in violation could lose its permit to sell drinks, and any person who violates the law faces criminal trespassing charges, according to state officials.

More than anything, leaders of the effort to make open carry legal in Texas fear that the uproar over efforts to carry long guns into local restaurants is detracting from their overall goal.

“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 out 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.”

Open Carry Tarrant County spokesman Kory Watkins said Thursday that his group already follows many of the recommendations from Open Carry Texas and does not plan to change its tactics further.

“We are going to keep doing what has worked,” Watkins said.

Statewide leaders of the movement — who are also encouraging supporters to consider switching from long guns to black powder revolvers — say they needed to reach out to fellow open-carry advocates to make sure they draw the right kind of attention to the movement.

“We think that the groups have grown so large so fast and we have so many new people,” said Terry Holcomb Sr., a pastor and president of Texas Carry. “With all the mistakes we’ve seen recently, we decided we needed to go ahead and put the policy out.”

In Thursday’s letter, leaders of the open-carry movement said they “are humbly and emphatically imploring our members to cease taking long arms into corporate businesses unless invited.”

Suggested procedures

They do suggest that supporters switch from carrying long guns to black powder revolvers, which “have proven to be very effective and align with our goal of legalizing open carry with a handgun.”

The letter lists procedures that leaders hope members will follow: Notify law enforcement before any walks to promote the effort; carry flags and signs to promote awareness; carry long guns on slings rather than holding them; don’t go into corporate businesses without permission; if asked to leave, do so without creating a problem.

Members are also asked not to go into businesses where Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission signs are posted and to stick to small businesses that have given approval to carry guns inside.

“We know everyone is working hard for this cause,” the letter said. “It is simply time to focus on what has been proven to work.

“The conversation has shifted from open carry of handguns to rifles in businesses, negating our efforts and distracting us from our mission.”

National headlines

This month, Open Carry Tarrant County made national headlines after a misunderstanding at a Jack in the Box in Fort Worth.

Police were called to the fast-food restaurant at Sycamore School Road and South Freeway after a 911 caller reported seeing a group of men walking nearby with long-barreled guns. Some Open Carry Tarrant County members had gone inside the restaurant with their guns to place an order.

Fort Worth officers who arrived on the scene to find a gun-rights demonstration, not an armed robbery, reportedly advised members that it “would be advantageous if they carried large signage or flags declaring their purpose.”

The officer also recommended that the group notify the Police Department before demonstrations, according to a police report.

“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.

Also this month, Chipotle Mexican Grill gained national attention because of a demonstration by gun advocates in one of their Dallas restaurants — in Victory Park near the American Airlines Center.

“Recently participants from an ‘open carry’ demonstration in Texas brought guns (including military-style assault rifles) into one of our restaurants, causing many of our customers anxiety and discomfort,” Chipotle officials said in a statement this week.

“Because of this, we are respectfully asking that customers not bring guns into our restaurants, unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”

Political issue

Open carry has become a hot political issue as candidates in races including governor and lieutenant governor have indicated that a change in the law will be on the table during the next legislative session.

State lawmakers briefly visited the possibility of allowing open carry in Texas last year, when Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, filed a measure to let Texans with concealed-handgun licenses openly carry their firearms, as gun owners in many other states, including Oklahoma and Minnesota, already do.

The proposal, co-written by nearly two dozen House members, including Reps. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake and Matt Krause of Fort Worth, never made it out of committee.

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

“Long guns achieved the goal we wanted — we have the Legislature’s full attention,” Holcomb said. “Now we need to transition into more of what the purpose is: getting open carry in Texas.”

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