Thomas Ballard walked outside the Texas Capitol complex Tuesday with a loaded AR-15 slung over his right shoulder.
He joined dozens of gun-rights activists there toting black powder pistols and long guns — which are legal to carry unconcealed in Texas — hoping to send a message to state lawmakers on the first day of the 84th Legislative Session.
“We want to have constitutional open carry,” the 29-year-old Arlington man said. “Everyone should have the right to defend themselves because bad guys don’t follow the law.”
He and others gathered at the edge of the Capitol grounds, on the other side of a wrought-iron fence, with members of the Come and Take It gun-rights group. They spoke about the merits of the bill and watched a 3-D machine manufacture pieces of a metal firearm.
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Before the session officially began at high noon, they dropped off petitions in every lawmaker’s office that had been signed by more than 15,000 people in support of state Rep. Jonathan Stickland‘s bill to allow the constitutional carry of handguns.
“Texas is the front line for gun rights,” said Murdock Pizgatti, founder and president of Come and Take It America. “And these 3-D machines will be where it is in the future.”
House Bill 195 by Stickland, R-Bedford, would let Texans who are legally allowed to posses firearms carry them in the open or concealed without a license.
Many say politicians will be under more pressure than ever to pass this, or a similar bill, since Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has said he will sign into law an open carry measure if it passes the legislature.
“This rally represents the opening salvo in the 140-day long battle by advocates to obtain the right to carry their handguns openly, either with or without a license, as is possible in a large majority of the U.S. states,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
“One potential pitfall for open carry advocates created by this type of large rally is that they run the risk of presenting an undesirable ‘fringe’ image of the open carry movement in the court of public opinion. Even many strong supporters of Second Amendment rights are not very comfortable with large groups of men walking around in public places with assault rifles.”
On Tuesday, open carry supporters set up shop right outside the Capitol gates, using the Ghost Gunner — a manufacturing device that can create a working gun out of metal using digital designs, similar to a 3-D printer — to create firearms.
It is made by Defense Distributed, an Austin-based company that previously drew headlines after using a 3-D machine to print a Liberator plastic gun that successfully fired real bullets. These machines typically sell for anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500, Pizgatti said.
“On day one, Ghost Gunner can help you legally manufacture unserialized firearms in the comfort of your own home,” according to the company website. “As shipped, Ghost Gunner can manufacture any mil-spec 80 perdent AR-15 lower receiver that already has the rear take down well milled out.”
As members of Come and Take It Texas watched Tuesday, the machine went to work.
It takes an AR-15 lower receiver that is 80 percent completed and mills the remaining 20 percent that is needed for the part to be used in a functioning gun.
“We wanted to send a very powerful message — we are here for [HB] 195 and we want to see 195 passed,” said Jason Orsek, vice president of Come and Take It Texas. “We are going to get open carry.
“If we don’t, they aren’t going to like us for the next two years.”
Open carry bill
While several open carry bills have been filed, gun-rights activists are backing Stickland’s constitutional carry bill.
Fashioned after a Vermont law, it would let Texans who are legally allowed to possess firearms carry them in the open or concealed — without any license.
He said that means anyone legally eligible to own a gun could carry it openly and freely across the state without getting permission from bureaucrats.
Stickland said Tuesday that he believes his bill will pass this session and be signed into law.
“I think we have a ton of momentum,” he said. “I haven’t seen this much momentum before.”
Those promoting gun rights Tuesday morning at the Capitol said it’s time for this bill to pass.
“There are over 30 states that have some form of open carry,” said Jerome Williams of Austin, a member of Lone Star Gun Rights. “It’s time that Texas moves up to where the rest of the country is and joins the freedom movement.
“If we don’t have the Second Amendment right, all our rights are gone.”
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610