Advocates, candidates line up to support Texas gun rights

Texas – we like doing things big. The size and vigor of our political front on the Second Amendment is no exception. Many Texans have strong views supporting our right to keep and bear arms. They believe the best security in maintaining a free country is by protecting this right from all levels of governmental obstruction – federal, state and local. As the Texas Republican primary approaches, candidates seem to be lining up in support of that view.

What the law allows, what it doesn’t disallow

Texas permits licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons. The open carry of handguns is illegal. To qualify for a Texas Concealed Handgun License an individual must:

  •    Be 21 years old. (Members and former members of the armed forces must be 18.)
  •     Have a clean criminal history, including military service and recent juvenile records.
  •     Not be under a protective order.
  •     Not be chemically dependent.
  •     Not be of unsound mind.
  •     Not be delinquent in paying fines, fees, child support, etc.
  •     Be eligible to purchase a handgun by completing the NICS check.
  •     Complete required training.

The issue of allowing CHL holders to carry on college campuses and in public schools is not yet resolved, but other bills passed by the recent Texas legislature are impacting gun rights.

The open carry of long guns is not addressed under Texas law. While not expressly termed legal by state statute, neither is it expressly prohibited. Carrying long guns to intimidate, threaten, or otherwise disturb the peace is not allowed, but peaceful open carrying of long guns is not illegal.

Gun rights advocacy not embraced by all

This distinction between categories of guns has gained attention and sometimes the ire of law enforcement as open carry advocates work to educate the public regarding the realities of Texas open and concealed carry laws as well as other gun ownership issues.

Open Carry Texas, an organization dedicated to the safe and legal carry of firearms openly in the State of Texas in accordance with the United States and Texas Constitutions and applicable laws, has sponsored and/or participated in numerous rallies in recent months to highlight current laws and advocate passage of full open carry legislation.

Not everyone, however, sees gun rights the same. Department of Public Safety personnel patrolling the state Capitol grounds provide such an example. A diversity of legal interpretations occurred at a Veterans Day observance when C.J. Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas, and another man, Jacob Cordova were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest.

“Two men were arrested Monday on the grounds of the Capitol on a charge of criminal trespass. The men, who were openly carrying suspected weapons, were given an opportunity to leave the area, but refused. After their arrests, they were transported to the Travis County Jail,” DPS spokesman Tom Vinger told the Temple Daily Telegram.

Grisham described to Telegram reporter Deborah McKeon how “he was starting to introduce the first speaker for the Veterans Day event when Capitol Security Police, a division of the Department of Public Safety, approached the group and told them to leave with their firearms.”

He explained how he told the officers that no firearms – only black powder pistols and toy guns – were being carried, that the officer again said they must leave to which Grisham then offered the same response. At that point, the men were placed under arrest.

McKeon concludes her article:

Texas Administration Code states that firearms, explosive weapons, illegal knives, clubs and knuckles, as defined in the Texas Penal Code, and prohibited weapons as defined in the Texas Penal Code are not permitted in state buildings or on state grounds unless the individual carrying is a licensed peace officer, a security guard under contract or has a concealed handgun license and carries the weapon where permitted by law.

A gun manufactured before 1899, such as a black powder pistol, is not considered a firearm under Texas law.

Grisham also currently faces a Class B misdemeanor interfering with a peace officer while performing a duty charge in Bell County. On March 16 as Grisham and his son were on a 10-mile hike related to an Eagle Scout badge project, the Temple Police Department received a non-emergency call reporting an “odd” sight on the outskirts of Temple as a couple was walking down a road, one appeared to have a weapon although “was not waving it around.”

Officer Steve Ermis’ subsequent encounter with the pair resulted in a contentious exchange and Grisham’s detainment. Grisham, a well-known military blogger, captured a large portion of the exchange on cellphone video which quickly went viral.

His original resisting arrest charge has since been downgraded twice. If convicted for this relatively low level charge, potential punishment is a fine not to exceed $2,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days or both fine and confinement.

A four-day trial in October ended in a mistrial. Jurors deliberated for two days apparently grappling with a verdict based on the judge’s instruction. A key piece of evidence was the police dashcam video.

While the widely-viewed Grisham video documents much of the encounter, opening seconds of the Temple police dashcam video establish the initial demeanor and actions of both Ermis and Grisham while also providing context for what’s seen in the Grisham video.

Despite Brady v. Maryland requiring release of such evidence, the office of Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols withheld the video from Grisham’s defense team. It was only at a mid-May hearing that visiting Harris County retired Judge Neel Richardson ordered the release of two police videos and an audio recording of the call which initially placed Ermis in contact with Grisham. With the release, however, the judge ruled, the video was only for use by Grisham’s defense team specifically noting it not for dissemination to the press or the public.

One juror who has publicly spoken of his trial experience offered this regarding the video and the tailoring of the judge’s charge or instruction to the jury:

“You can look at the video and you can see he (Grisham) committed these acts. Yes, he may have had his reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that he committed these acts.” Cotterill explained. “We weren’t there to determine if he had the right to self defense, we weren’t there to determine if his actions were a defensive tactics. We weren’t there to determine whether the officer was wrong in his actions. We were just there to determine whether or not he had committed the acts that he was charged with.”

A new trial is scheduled for Nov. 18 although a pending change of venue motion is likely to prompt a postponement.

Transparency become its own issue

The police dashcam video also continues as an outstanding issue of its own. On Oct. 29 the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ordered release of the dashcam video by Bell County based on a Public Information Act request and the county’s failure to comply with the procedural obligations required in requesting a decision to withhold this piece of public information.

Bell County now has three options. The first, a no-taxpayer-cost option, is to release the requested materials.

The second is to resist this release by filing a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against Abbott’s office in Travis County within 30 calendar days. The attorney general’s website notes, however, that to receive “the full benefit of such a challenge, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3).”

A week after its issuance, Nichols told the Telegram his office had received no such order so it is undetermined if taxpayers would receive any challenge’s “full benefit” in pursuit of this taxpayer-financed government transparency dispute over withholding resources generated by taxpayers’ hard-earned tax dollars.

A third option is for the county to offer no response. Non-action would then shift any next steps to the attorney general or requestor.

The pols jump on board

Meanwhile, several high-profile politicians – at least those running for office – are lining up to support Texas gun rights, specifically open carry.

Though with his re-election campaign, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst reportedly commits to “some form of open carry in Texas for law-abiding citizens,” his opponents seem to speak more specifically on the issue.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a long-time gun rights supporter and author of the Texas’ concealed carry legislation, says “passage of an open carry law would be a priority if he is elected.”

The race’s other candidates – Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, – have as well expressed support for Texas open carry legislation.

“It is hard to imagine Texas being one of six states that doesn’t have some sort of open carry policy,” Staples told the Houston Chronicle. “That needs to change. I support open carry in Texas.”

Upon coming into the attorney general’s office 12 years ago, Abbott, per Texas Lawyer, “promised a new era of government transparency.” Now as a candidate for governor, Abbott routinely notes his support for “the open carry of handguns in public.”

Opportunities abound

With all the rhetoric underway, looks like Texas gun rights might enter its own new era.

Gun rights attracts a no-nonsense crowd. Second Amendment advocates will undoubtedly be watching to ensure the pre-election talk meets the post-election walk.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

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