Imagine sitting down to dinner at a restaurant with your family when in walks a handful of men armed with assault rifles. Are you frightened, maybe angry? Or do they make you feel safe?
That’s the question at the center of a bitter and increasingly public battle surrounding a group of gun-carrying activists in Texas, who brazenly flex their legal right to bear arms by carrying around assault rifles in public. The group calls themselves “Open Carry Texas.” Their enthusiasm for packing heat in public has led national chains like Chipotle, Chili’s and Jack in the Box to ask customers to leave their firearms at home.
What the group is doing is perfectly legal in Texas, but they have come to represent the line in the sand between those in America who fear the violent use of guns and those who fear losing their guns.
Master Sgt. CJ Grisham, a 20-year Army veteran and father of three, is the man behind Open Carry Texas.
Nearly every week, Grisham, his wife and often his young children hit the road to attend open carry marches across Texas. Grisham stressed the fact he always calls ahead to alert police about their marches, and never enters a restaurant or store while armed without getting permission.
At one march in San Antonio, nearly two dozen well-armed supporters, men and women from retirees to children, showed up to pass out flyers on one of the city’s busiest intersections. Most of the passing motorists were supportive, honking their horns and giving the group thumbs up, but others flipped them off and told them they were crazy.
Grisham says he began the Open Carry movement after one incident that he says traumatized him. Grisham and his 16-year old son had decided to go on a hike in rural Texas. Grisham brought along a rifle to protect from wild animals, which is legal under Texas law. During his hike, he was stopped by a police officer, who attempted to disarm Grisham and arrested him. Grisham claims that it was a false arrest. The incident was caught on police dashcam. Grisham was taken to jail, and later convicted of interfering with the duties of a police officer, a charge he is appealing in court.
Grisham, who is months from retiring from the Army, said he still battles with PTSD from his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and the arrest triggered one of the worst PTSD episodes he had ever endured.
He posted the arrest video online, and it made him something of a folk hero on pro-gun and gun rights websites. Grisham says the support he received is what lit the spark to turn him from gun advocate, to gun activist. Open Carry Texas’ mission is to raise awareness of existing gun rights and to expand those rights. Surprisingly, Texas law says it is legal to openly carry so-called “long guns” like assault rifles, but the open carry of handguns is prohibited. Grisham says Open Carry Texas’ provocative tactics are aimed at legalizing the open carry of handguns in the state. He wears a plastic pistol everywhere he goes as a symbol of his cause.
As for his controversial marches, Grisham says they help show people that guns are not always something to be feared. When pressed, he acknowledged that he knows he may be scaring some people, but that these people have what he calls “an irrational fear of guns.”