Some people might find it discomfiting to be approached on the street by an individual with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder. Even in Texas.
But gun-toting was not the reason why two members of Open Carry Texas’ local chapter were cited for violating an Arlington city ordinance.
According to its website, part of OCT’s mission is to educate Texans about “their right to openly carry rifles and shotguns in a safe manner,” and to “condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry them.”
The group’s message is perfectly legal, but its tactics caught the OCT in the Arlington Police Department’s crosshairs when several members stepped into an intersection near the Six Flags amusement park last month.
Daniel Wood and Mason Yancy received misdemeanor citations for handing out informational pamphlets and copies of the Constitution to drivers and passengers in vehicles on a roadway, an action prohibited by city law.
The ordinance forbids standing or walking on street corners, sidewalks or medians to hand out literature or other items to people inside vehicles not legally parked.
Kory Watkins, an Open Carry Tarrant County representative, told Star-Telegram reporters Mitch Mitchell and Susan Schrock that the law is unconstitutional.
But the group also expressed concerns over fairness. The very same day Arlington firefighters were permitted to stand in the roadways and solicit charitable contributions from passing motorists. The city says such exceptions may be granted under a state statute.
And there, the OCT might have a point.
The ordinance itself is more than reasonable. Whatever the intention, people darting between cars at intersections and precariously balancing on medians of busy streets can be distracting and dangerous.
But if the law is designed to promote safety of both motorists and pedestrians, it should be enforced uniformly.
Whether firefighters raising money for scholarships, high school students seeking cash for new band uniforms or advocacy groups promoting their agenda, the risks to drivers and solicitors is the same.
The APD says its officers are indifferent to the content of the OCT’s materials. That may be true, but the appearance of uneven enforcement is ripe for controversy, and open-carry generates enough on its own.