The Texas open carry law that went into effect on January 1, 2016, allows handgun license holders to wear their firearms like the Townes Van Zandt character Pancho, who “wore his gun outside his pants for all the honest world to feel.” On the flip side, businesses have the right to restrict customers and employees from bringing handguns –– open or concealed –– into their establishments as long as legal signs are posted.
The open carry law’s first anniversary is just around the corner, and there has been little controversy so far. Initially, some people were concerned about the new law. They envisioned walking into the grocery store to buy milk and entering into Tombstone circa 1880.
Groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grassroots network of mothers, feared the worst.
Last year, after open carry was approved, Angela Turner, a volunteer with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action, issued a statement saying, “As a gun owning Texas mom, I am ashamed of our Texas lawmakers who voted in favor of extremist interests and petty politics instead of representing the majority of Texans who oppose the open carry of handguns.”
Though there have been only a few flaps, a local entrepreneur was surprised to receive an email last week that threatened a boycott of his business. He had posted signs a year ago prohibiting open and concealed weapons at his business. The email was the first threat or complaint that he had received.
“I was shocked,” said the owner, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from gun enthusiasts. “This is the only time anyone has said anything. I don’t want to see people out here picketing. We’re just a small business.”
Almost a million Texans hold handgun licenses, creating the potential at least for a powerful boycott.
“This guy made it sound like he was going to have people standing outside my door expressing fanatical views,” the owner said.
The owner had posted both of the state’s legal signs –– the so-called 30.06 sign that prohibits concealed carry and the 30.07 sign that prohibits open carry. The email, sent by someone using the name Robert Otto, read, in part, “I see you have posted 30.06 and 30.07 signs. You will now endure the boycott we will be conducting to all business in your area. Your potential customers will be greeted by our people on the street and made aware of your anti-Texan and anti-Constitutional views. Enjoy.”
I emailed Otto, but my email to him was returned as undeliverable. I found nobody online by that name who appeared to be an open carry advocate.
I called C.J. Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas, a nonprofit group that advocates for the legal carrying of firearms openly. He had never heard of Otto.
Open Carry Texas uses a mild form of boycotting. The group maintains on online registry of businesses that forbid firearms.
“When we come across those kinds of businesses, the first thing we do is add their name to the registry,” Grisham said. “If they don’t respect our rights to defend ourselves, they don’t want our money. Why support a business that doesn’t support your right to self defense?”
In the past, Open Carry Texas members were content to add businesses to the online registry and move on. But lately the members have been approaching business owners, Grisham said. The gun enthusiasts let business owners know they have been put on the registry for prohibiting firearms. The activists also try to convince business owners to take down the signs, Grisham said.
Since January 1, Open Carry Texas members have convinced more than 100 businesses in Texas to remove their 30.06 and 30.07 signs and have their businesses removed from the boycott registry, Grisham said.
“We are not the problem,” he said. “We are not the threat. We have a lot of success getting people to take the signs down.”
Many people expected the passing of the open carry law to lead to protests and clashes with residents who don’t like going out in the world and being confronted with people carrying handguns in holsters. Grisham described those fears as “much ado about nothing.” Texas is the 45th state to allow open carry.
“It’s not like we were the first,” he said. “We were one of the last. Open carry is not a problem anywhere else, and it wasn’t a problem here. Nobody has reported any issues. All the hype and the fear at the beginning of the year [have] been tested, and it is nothing but hype. Most people don’t notice or care.”
With open and concealed carry permissible in Texas now, Grisham and other Second Amendment activists have set their sites on getting constitutional carry implemented in Texas. Constitutional carry allows gun owners to carry weapons without a license.
“If you are a law-abiding citizen and can legally purchase a firearm, you should be able to legally carry that firearm,” Grisham said.
Currently, the cost of the state permit to carry a handgun is $140.
Texas State Rep. John Stickland, a Fort Worth-area Republican who helped pass the open carry bill in 2015, is leading the charge for constitutional carry, or House Bill 375. If the law passes, people who legally purchase firearms will no longer be required to pass a gun-safety test or pay a permit fee. Stickland appears to have an ally in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has pushed for a reduction in the $140 cost of a gun permit, saying the fees in Texas are excessive.
Open Carry Tarrant County has established a reputation as one of the most volatile of the open carry groups as its members seek to educate Texans on gun rights and to push for constitutional carry. Sometimes that means local Open Carry members, led by group president Kory Watkins, stand on sidewalks near busy Arlington streets and carry machine guns openly.
His group has belittled Republicans in the State Senate who have hesitated to support a constitutional carry bill. The group created a Facebook event page in 2015 asking people to contact their state representatives, saying “it’s time to hunt down the Republicans who don’t support the Constitution and the Republican platform. Then, we will expose them and help them find a new job by making sure they won’t have a chance to ever get elected in Texas again.”