EMILY SCHMALL, Associated Press
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A Texas gun-rights group known for openly carrying firearms and a North Texas affiliate have parted ways after police were called on the affiliate twice in recent weeks.
Authorities say Fort Worth and Arlington police responded to 911 calls last week and late last month reporting that a group of men carrying rifles and shotguns had entered fast-food restaurants in their respective cities.
Both Open Carry Texas and Open Carry Tarrant County dispute that account, saying that instead of hiding, the fast-food employees posed for pictures with the gun-toting members. But they have agreed to a “mutual parting without animosity” because of a disagreement on how their signature protests are carried out — exposing a rift in the state’s growing open-carry movement.
Open Carry Texas founder C.J. Grisham said the North Texas group should have notified authorities of their planned appearance in advance and that demonstrators should have carried flags with the group’s logo.
“They need to know we’re not going to be shooting up the place,” Grisham said, adding that the Tarrant County group’s “desire to resist that effort” to call police ahead of events harmed the cause for more gun rights in Texas.
Open Carry Tarrant County Coordinator Kory Watkins, however, said that notifying authorities ahead of time would defeat the purpose of the demonstrations, which is to exercise their legal right to bear arms.
“We don’t ask for permission or call anybody. We’re trying to make this as normal as possible,” he said.
The open-carry movement was triggered last year when police arrested Grisham on a resisting-arrest charge. He ultimately was convicted of interfering with police duties. He was walking in the outskirts of Temple, Texas, armed with a semi-automatic rifle when an officer approached. His son videotaped his arrest and broadcast it on YouTube, inspiring a wave of support for Grisham.
After being jailed briefly, he was tried and found guilty, and a jury fined him $2,000. He is currently appealing the verdict. In the meantime, Open Carry Texas has grown to 16,000 members, and there are dozens of loosely affiliated offshoots, including, until this week, Open Carry Tarrant County.
Texas has some of the most liberal gun laws in the country, but openly carrying handguns is illegal. Open-carry groups are lobbying the Texas Legislature to change this rule.
In addition to leading open-carry marches three times a week in Tarrant County, Watkins, 30, is running as a Republican candidate for the local school board, and advocates arming teachers and school administrators.
“I don’t see why anybody would think a gun-free zone is a good thing,” he said.
Fort Worth police say Jack in the Box employees locked themselves in a freezer when Open Carry Tarrant County members appeared last week. Employees of the restaurant told the Associated Press they were not allowed to speak on the matter.
Jack in the Box spokesman Brian Luscomb said he could not confirm how employees responded to the armed men.