The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
If one where to believe all the hype, it would appear that there has been an ongoing battle to pass open-carry in many legislative sessions in Texas. This simply is not true, so let us look at what has transpired on this issue.
There is an organization called OpenCarry.org that was formed to promote open-carry throughout the nation. Their website has separate sections for each state and some people in the Texas section started to push for open-carry in the Lone Star State.
Their approach was pretty much what one sees from Open Carry Texas (OCT) and OCTC, i.e. a lot of chest-beating, threats of political retribution against any Texas Senator or House Member that did not support open-carry and denunciation of any pro-gun people or organizations that asked them to tone down the rhetoric.
In 2009, Rep. Debbie Riddle agreed to “pull a bill” on open-carry, meaning that she would have legislative counsel draft a proposed bill for her to evaluate. Unfortunately, open-carry zealots falsely claimed she had promised to file an open-carry bill and when she did not, she and her staff were viciously attacked on the Internet, as well as by fax and telephone. Word got around the Capitol rather quickly and the entire open-carry issue was so tainted that no one would touch it. The NRA and TSRA were falsely accused of killing open-carry simply because those who had doomed their own cause to failure certainly were not going to accept blame. (Rep. Riddle did file HB3684 in 2009, but that bill was directed at allowing certain disabled people with a Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL) to carry their handgun openly, if their disability made concealed-carry impractical.)
The OpenCarry.org folks were livid that an open-carry bill was not even filed in the 2009 Texas Legislative Session. There was a cry to form a Texas organization to promote open-carry during the 2011 legislative session. By October, 2010, a group calling itself Lone Star Citizens Defense League (LSCDL) was formed. The Internet’s WayBackMachine.com periodically takes snapshots of millions of websites and the snapshot taken on October 28, 2010 indicates that LoneStarCDL.org’s website was about to go live. These folks were essentially the OpenCarry.org Texas Section operating under a new banner and their tactics did not change.
During the 2011 Texas Legislative Session, Rep. George Lavender filed HB2756, a bill that would have removed the concealment requirement for holders of a Texas Concealed Handgun License. This would have established what has become known at “licensed open-carry” meaning one would have to have a CHL to carry openly or concealed. The Bill was reported out of committee too late to clear the Calendar’s Committee and have any chance of making it to the House Floor for debate and voting.
Contrary to the false allegations by LSCDL and other open-carry zealots, neither the NRA or the TSRA opposed HB2756 either publicly or behind the scenes. The NRA and TSRA legislative agendas were full and both organizations work on a two year cycle. The unstated complaint by LSCDL was that the NRA and TSRA did not abandon their well-developed legislative strategy and jump to the support of the open-carry bill.
In early 2013, events were unfolding that would have a profoundly detrimental impact on the effort to pass an open-carry bill in Texas. On or about March 16, 2013, Army Master Sergeant C.J. Grisham was walking with his AR-15 rifle and his son in Temple, Texas on what was reported to be an Eagle Scout hike. Someone called the police because they were concerned about Grisham. TPD Sgt. Steve Ermis was dispatched on the call and what happened upon his arrival on the scene is disputed. What is clear is that Sgt. Grisham had his son make a video recording of some of the events on a cell phone, but the recording began after the initial confrontation. Sgt. Grisham was arrested and initially charged with resisting arrest, but the charges were later changed to “interfering with the duties of a public servant.” (Grisham contends that changing the specific charges is somehow sinister, but this happens regularly so that the official charges match the facts.) Grisham’s first of two trials did not occur, nor was Open Carry Texas formed, until after the 2013 Texas Legislative Session was over.
In the 2013 Texas Legislative Session, Rep. Lavender filed another “licensed open-carry” bill, HB700. This Bill was dead on arrival and it never even received a vote in the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee. Initially, LSCDL supported HB700, but later turned against it blasting Rep. Lavender for not filing what has become known as a “constitutional carry” bill. Such a bill would be more accurately described as “unlicensed-carry” meaning that the requirement to obtain a Texas Concealed Handgun License to carry a handgun openly or concealed would be repealed. The 2013 Texas Legislative Session came to an end a bit early that session, adjourning sine die on May 27, 2013. At some time thereafter, LSCDL went the way of the buffalo and the last WayBackMachine snapshot of their website was on June 13, 2013. The next time the WayBackMachine took a snapshot of their website at LoneStarCDL.org was on December 7, 2013 and it now appears to be owned by a Japanese dating service.
Toward the end of the 2013 legislative session, both the NRA and TSRA started laying the groundwork to promote open-carry in the 2015 Texas Legislative Session. Precisely what was done is confidential, but it was in keeping with methods and procedures that have proven successful in Texas for many decades. It is at this point that the campaign to pass open-carry realistically began. The NRA and TSRA presence was the factor that caused Texas legislators to take open-carry seriously.
Throughout the 2013 Texas Legislative Session, Sgt. Grisham’s upcoming trial was simmering in the background and he and his plight were gaining in popularity and financial support. On July 9, 2013, a little over a month after the 2013 Texas Legislative Session had come to an end, Grisham filed the necessary paperwork with the Texas Secretary of State to create Open Carry Texas, Incorporated (OCT). Unlike LSCDL and the Texas Section of OpenCarry.org, OCT started staging demonstrations to support an open-carry bill during the next (2015) legislative session. These demonstrations were covered by the media and they included carrying rifles and shotguns into stores and restaurants and along public highways. Grisham was a man on a mission who felt he had been grievously wronged. In truth, he probably had been, but it was a problem that was largely of his own making. A few thousand Texans joined OCT wanting both to support Grisham and to promote open-carry during the 2015 legislative session.
Grisham’s first trial ended with a hung jury on October 15, 2013 (after the Texas Legislature had adjourned). Not long thereafter, he was convicted at the end of a second trial and was sentenced to pay a $2,000 fine without any jail time.
After he was convicted at the end of his second trial, the tactics and rhetoric of OCT were even more in-your-face. If the OCT Facebook group and page are any indication, the organization’s growth and popularity plummeted sometime after TV and radio reporters broadcast numerous accounts of OCT in-your-face demonstrations that lead to major restaurants and stores asking their customers not to bring guns into their locations. In short, the media coverage was an absolute public relations disaster.
While local activists were trying to convince Grisham to back away from the damaging open-carry demonstrations, NRA and TSRA lobbyists were still working behind to scenes to make passage of open-carry possible in 2015. Though Grisham publicly refused to stop all demonstrations, he called for his group (OCT) to wear holsters with black powder handguns (legally carried in Texas) or toy guns, rather than rifles and shotguns. Grisham later denied making such a request, but from late summer, 2014 until shortly before the 2015 Texas Legislative Session began, there were virtually no news reports of OCT demonstrations. This relative calm created a more promising atmosphere in Austin for NRA and TSRA to continue their efforts to pave the way for passage of open-carry in the upcoming legislative session.
Open Carry Texas and/or Grisham played some role in the creation of Open Carry Tarrant County (OCTC) run by Kory Watkins. OCTC remains a small organization that appears to have even more radical members wanting to pass unlicensed open-carry in 2015. Grisham and Watkins, once close allies, are increasingly hostile toward one another, with Grisham trying unsuccessfully to distance himself and OCT from Watkins and OCTC. This rift is the result of increasingly antagonistic tactics used by OCTC and especially Watkins allegedly to promote passage of open-carry in 2015. Although Grisham steadfastly ignored the fact that OCT’s demonstrations were damaging the effort to pass open-carry, he corrected admonished Watkins for engaging in even more counterproductive conduct. As with Grisham, these warnings fell on deaf ears.
Rarely if ever will experienced lobbyists and activists claim that passage of any bill is a sure thing. However, the yeoman’s work done by NRA and TSRA lobbyists between the summer of 2014 and the beginning of the 2015 legislative session came as close to making open-carry a slam dunk as possible. Then, a public relations disaster struck, a disaster named Kory Watkins and OCTC. They went to the Capitol office of Rep. Pancho Nevarez and confronted him about his lack of support of open-carry. Their conduct is universally considered reprehensible and the media jumped on the incident with both feet. Two years of work by the NRA and TSRA, six months of which was damage control, could have been destroyed in minutes by Watkins, OCTC members and a complicit media. Watkins didn’t help matters when he published a video of the confrontation proclaiming himself and OCTC to be freedom fighters.
One thing is absolutely certain; unlicensed open-carry is as dead as Jimmy Hoffa! Candidly, unlicensed open-carry had no chance of passage in 2015, but the OCT, OCTC, Grisham, Watkins political fiasco has damaged the issue to the point that passage of unlicensed open-carry may not be possible for many legislative sessions to come.
Several open-carry bills have been filed with SB346 and HB910 being backed by the NRA and TSRA. These two bills have a much better chance of passage than others that water down or destroy the protections of Tex. Penal Code §30.06 that Texans have benefitted from for almost eighteen years.
Hopefully, calmer heads will prevail at OCT and it will either support SB346/HB910, or at least not create more anti-gun fodder for the media by making costly political and public relations disasters. Within the next 45 days, the future of licensed open-carry should be a bit easier to predict.
The realistic effort to pass open-carry in Texas began near the end of the 2013 Texas Legislative Session when the NRA and TSRA put the issue on their respective legislative agendas. Although others may claim a serious push began in 2009, those involved had neither the experience nor the political impact to even put open-carry on the political radar screen. No one should be discouraged by thinking that this will be the forth legislative session that open-carry has been considered. It truth, 2015 will be the first serious effort to pass open-carry and if successful, it will be to the credit of the NRA and TSRA and in spite of the overwhelmingly negative publicity garnered by OCT and OCTC.