The Texas State Legislature convened today at high noon and dozens of gun-rights activists came to the state capitol in Austin to welcome the lawmakers back. Specifically on their minds is HB 195, the most radical of three proposed open carry bills, which would allow the open carry of handguns without any sort of permit—a right that is currently outlawed, despite the image of the Lone Star State as a gunslinger’s paradise.
With a Republican majority and Governor-Elect Greg Abbott, who ran in part on a promise to sign open carry legislation, it seems the 140-year ban has a good chance of being rolled back. That is, if the most extreme amongst the gun rights’ brigade don’t shoot themselves in the foot first.
Open carry has been a controversial issue within Texas—one of only six states that expressly forbid the carrying of handguns within plain view. Open carry advocates there have ratcheted up protests of the existing law within the last year, by exercising their right to open carry via a loophole that allows rifles, shotguns, and antique pistols to be worn in plain view as long as the holder’s intent isn’t to frighten those around him.
The open carry movement in Texas is a fractured one with tactics that including armed trolling of on-duty cops and carrying of assault-style rifles in grocery stores and family restaurants that even the NRA has called “downright weird.”
But today’s armed rally, where members of Come and Take It Texas (CATITX) are manufacturing firearms on the statehouse steps using “The Ghost Gunner,” might trump even the most bizarre.
CATITX bought the very first Ghost Gunner, a $1,500 CNC machine—or computer controlled tool manufacturer—which can build the metal body of an AR-15 rifle with no serial number (meaning no background check and no method of tracking should a crime be committed with the firearm). To it, a builder can add necessary components like a barrel and trigger for a fully functional weapon. At the moment, the machine is legal, and the extra parts are not regulated in the U.S., as long as a maker doesn’t plan on selling his creation.
In the run-up to the Austin protest, other open carry proponents have sought to distance themselves and persuade CATITX to use a less provocative approach.
Over the summer, the Texas Firearms Coalition wrote on its blog, “If there is any chance of passing OC, then it will depend upon OC supporters and groups standing down and being as quiet as proverbial church mice so that the political dust can settle.”
“I don’t understand the purpose of it,” Open Carry Texas’ CJ Grisham told the Texas Tribune, saying he had called CATITX to ask them to leave the Ghost Gunner at home. “It seems confrontational, and really, needless. I mean, it’s the first day of the Legislature, we are this close to getting open carry passed, and now these guys want to come and manufacture a firearm on the steps of the Capitol? I just don’t get it.”
But CATITX seems to be looking beyond open carry and setting up for the next fight in gun rights. Calling firearm printing “the frontline,” CATITX president Murdoch Pizgatti told the Texas Tribune the gun-making rally wasn’t meant to be aggressive and doubted their actions would have an effect on the pending legislation. “It’s just drilling a couple holes in a piece of metal,” he said. “We heard the same thing when we started open carrying our rifles.”
In stark contrast to the open carry crowd, The Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gunsense in America is fighting against the proposed open carry legislation, and came to the statehouse armed with baked goods to argue their point.
“Expanding open carry is just an attempt by the gun lobby and its supporters to make it okay for anyone to openly carry anywhere.” Claire Elizabeth, leader of Moms Demand Action’s Texas chapter told The Daily Beast. As for the Come and Take It Texas rally, Elizabeth said, “This is the kind of extremism we don’t want see go unchecked and this sort of behavior isn’t what we want people to think of when they think of Texas.”
While armed CATITX protesters are free to carry long guns and black powder revolvers outside, only the legally armed can carry inside the capitol. To that end, the organizers suggest those wishing to visit their representative and hand out petitions come armed with rubber training guns, bananas, or constitutions in holsters, just this once.