Open Carry Texas President and CEO CJ Grisham writes:
History was made in Texas during the 84th legislative session. For the first time in twenty years, major gun rights legislation was passed through both chambers and signed into law. Governor Greg Abbott made both open carry and campus carry with a license legal . . .
In 1871, the Reconstructionist government took away the rights of Texans to carry “any pistol, dirk, dagger, sling-shot, sword-cane, spear, brass knuckles, bowie knife, or any other kind of knife, manufactured or sold, for the purpose of offense or defense.” In the 144 years since, the only major pro-gun legislation was passed in 1995 when Texas legalized the concealed carry of handguns with an expensive license. The rest of Texas gun laws were nothing more than remnants of laws designed to disarm newly freed slaves.
In both 2011 and 2013, open carry legislation was introduced by Representative George Lavender, but never made it out of committee. After the disappointing session for the 2nd Amendment, Open Carry Texas (OCT) was created with a mission to secure more gun rights for Texas. If the prevailing gun rights organizations couldn’t get it done, was it even possible? Open Carry Texas would have to use a more aggressive tactic. Begging for our rights had gotten us nowhere in the past so it was time to demand.
Our mission was simple, but aggressive: educate Texans about current laws, condition them to feel safe around firearms (liberal deprogramming), encourage lawmakers to pass pro-gun legislation, and work with law enforcement to minimize negative encounters. To do this, we were going to have reinvent the definition of a gun rights activist.
After my arrest, it became painfully obvious to me that Texans and law enforcement didn’t know the law about what is legal to carry in the Lone Star State. In order to prevent another encounter like the one I had, I made it a point to ensure that OCT maintained a cooperative relationship with cops. To do that, we made it a policy to contact police departments prior to our events to ensure they knew we were out there in case someone called. Unfortunately, some departments tried to prevent us from having our events and we were forced to inform them that we weren’t asking them for permission, just giving them the courtesy of a notice.
As a result of this policy, 99% of our encounters with law enforcement have been overwhelmingly positive. Even when they showed up after getting a call, the encounters were cordial, respectful, and professional. We were always willing to work with them so long as they were willing to work with us. When they weren’t, we didn’t back down. We stood our ground and demanded respect and adherence to the law. As a result, Open Carry Texas enjoys a healthy and positive relationship with nearly every police department in Texas.
Education is fundamental in building support for any cause, especially gun rights. To meet this aspect of our mission, our members held over 2,000 open carry events across the state. These events ranged from 2-3 people in a small town to over 1200 at the Alamo in October 2013. We handed out over 200,000 fliers, attended nearly 100 gun shows, and took part in parades and festivals all over the state. We successfully drew attention to the absurd reality that we could carry the largest rifle that can be legally owned, but not the smallest pistol openly – and we did so without a license!
In order to condition Texans to feel safe around firearms, we had to expose them to firearms. For decades, liberal gun grabbers and so-called gun rights advocates have brainwashed Americans into thinking that guns are something to be ashamed about and needed to be hidden. Open carry, “which is calculated to incite men to manly and noble defense of themselves,” (State v. Chandler, 5 La. An. 489, 490-91 (1850), cited in Cramer, p. 88.) needed to be revived.
When we first started in June 2013, I don’t think we had a single event that didn’t result in law enforcement being called. In the first six months of our existence, we had amassed 19 arrests (all charges were dropped except two, and they were acquitted). Between November 2013 and now, there have only been two and each of those were for carrying holstered, plastic or rubber, toy guns. The number of 911 calls has dropped by 95%. The conditioning worked.
The groundwork was laid and we had taken advantage of the interim time to build political support. The only thing left was to convince our lawmakers that the time had come to cast away the remnants of Jim Crow and usher in a new era of gun rights. Texas needed to live up to its reputation as a gun friendly state. Throughout the primaries and campaigns, our members were helping in every district to install liberty-minded candidates.
Open carry was a statewide campaign issue that even the top candidates were debating because of our efforts. Like us or love us, we made open carry a platform issue. We forced the conversation instead of letting others decide the timeline for the return of our rights. Neither Texas nor the United States was ready for the kind of statewide gun rights activism that we brought to the discussion.
And it paid off. So, what now? After all, OPEN CARRY Texas achieved open carry.
We’re not close to being done. Our ultimate goal is complete constitutional carry. That is, if you can legally own a firearm, you should be able to legally carry that firearm without begging the government for permission in the form of a license. Texans deserve the right to carry a handgun openly or concealed without being tracked and taxed through a government licensing scheme. Our amendment to protect Texans from overzealous cops and nosy neighbors was thrown out during debate, so we will continue pushing for laws that protect gun owners who are minding their own business, but carrying a holstered handgun.
We unsuccessfully fought to get the Disorderly Conduct statute reworded so that the mere act of carrying a firearm openly, absent any indicators of criminal activity, can’t be interpreted as disorderly by anti-gun cops. We will continue to work with KnifeRights.org in fixing our knife laws. This session, we helped them get a state preemption bill passed that will end the patchwork of knife laws around the state. For example, state law bans carrying locking blade knives over 5.5 inches. In San Antonio, you can’t carry one UNDER 5.5 inches. If you traveled from Corpus Christi to Dallas, you could potentially be violating knife laws about a dozen times and not even know it.
Campus carry was passed, but it was watered down by allowing schools to still prevent law abiding citizens from arming themselves for self-defense in certain areas. We want to change that by abolishing ALL gun free zones in Texas.
With great responsibilities must come great consequences. While we are fighting for more gun rights for Texans, we will also be fighting for higher penalties for those that use those rights to victimize others. We support making crimes involving the illegal use of a firearm much more severe than they already are. A crime that would normally be a Class A misdemeanor, would become a 3rd degree felony. A 3rd degree felony, would become a 2nd degree, and so on. We believe in and encourage the safe and legal carry of firearms and that there should be harsh consequences for using a firearm against another person except in self-defense. We also want stronger laws that will hold government officials legally accountable for violating these rights.
Over the next two years, we will work on finding candidates that support these goals. Once we have an idea of what the landscape will look like, we will begin gathering sponsors for those bills. We will also use the time to educate the public about the recently passed bills and encourage them to take advantage of them. We aren’t going anywhere. With over 50,000 members and growing, we seek to be the predominant gun rights group in Texas that takes a no compromise approach to the fight. The time of capitulation and begging is over.
CJ Grisham is the president and founder of Open Carry Texas. He is also a retired Army First Sergeant with over twenty years of active military service and two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is married with three kids and currently working towards a law degree while contemplating a run for state senate.