By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Published: October 14, 2013
HOUSTON — Hundreds of armed demonstrators are planning to converge at the Alamo in San Antonio on Saturday to test the limits of the gun laws in one of the most gun-friendly states in the country, by openly carrying their shotguns, assault weapons and other types of rifles in public.
Organizers of the rally — a flier declares “Get your guns & Head to San Antonio” — said they were planning a peaceful event. But the demonstration, intended to both celebrate the state’s gun culture and challenge it, has concerned officials. Amid a heavy police presence, more than 1,000 men and women carrying loaded rifles over their shoulders are expected to assemble at the site of the historic gun battle in one of the busiest sections of downtown.
Gun advocates say they have a simple goal — to remind ordinary citizens and law enforcement officials that they are allowed in Texas to legally and openly carry what are known as “long guns,” including shotguns and assault rifles.
In the world of Texas gun rights, size counts.
The carrying of handguns is regulated in Texas: many residents are allowed to carry a concealed pistol if they receive a state-issued permit, but they are forbidden from carrying that weapon openly and unconcealed in public. The carrying of rifles, however, is largely unregulated. Texans can walk down the street with a loaded rifle slung over their shoulder so long as they are not intentionally carrying the weapon in a public place in a manner, according to state law, “calculated to alarm.”
Hunters in rural Texas have quietly enjoyed and exercised the right to openly carry rifles for decades. But in recent months, as gun advocates have pushed for the passage of open-carry legislation that would allow those with concealed-carry permits to wear their handguns unconcealed on their hips, pro-gun Texans have sought to put the freedom to carry long guns to the test in Austin and other cities.
“A right that goes unexercised is a right that will be in jeopardy in the future,” said Jerry Patterson, the state land commissioner and a former state senator who wrote the concealed handgun law. “It used to be that everyone drove around Texas with a shotgun or rifle in a pickup visible for all to see. It’s normal. It’s routine. It’s lawful. We want to demonstrate that there’s no reason to call up the National Guard. Somebody might be offended, but that’s just too bad.”
Mr. Patterson, 66, who is scheduled to speak at the rally, used to carry a pistol in his boot on the floor of the Senate chamber when he was a legislator in Austin. But he will not have a rifle at the event on Saturday, because doing so, he said, would be too cumbersome.
When asked if he was bringing a rifle to the Alamo, the Rev. Terry Holcomb, a rally organizer and a pastor at a Baptist church near Huntsville, Tex., replied, “No sir, but my wife is.”
“She’ll be bringing an AR-15 Bushmaster .223,” he said.
Mr. Holcomb, 45, has carried that weapon as well as his Civil War-era replica revolver — certain antique guns and replicas that do not fire modern ammunition can be carried unconcealed — in public dozens of times during individual and group demonstrations, including on walks around his neighborhood in Coldspring, Tex.
“We get actually very little negative reaction,” said Mr. Holcomb, the executive director of the gun rights group Texas Carry, one of the rally’s sponsors. “We do not have a problem with police engagement at all. We appreciate those encounters.”
One such encounter, however, angered gun advocates, and prompted the idea for the rally. Three members of another gun group, Open Carry Texas, were cited for disorderly conduct with a firearm as they sat outside a Starbucks in San Antonio with their rifles in August. Mr. Holcomb and other gun advocates have said the three men were cited illegally.
The rally has put San Antonio officials in a difficult position. A city ordinance prohibits any person other than a police or security officer from carrying a firearm within the city limits at a political rally or at other public sites and events. Mr. Patterson, the state land commissioner, said that Chief William McManus of the San Antonio Police Department told him that the city was suspending enforcement of that ordinance for the rally on Saturday. Gun advocates believe that the ordinance is unlawful, pointing to sections of local government code that prohibit municipalities and counties from passing laws regulating firearms.
Chief McManus did not address suspending the ordinance in a statement. But he said police officials were “expecting it to be a peaceful gathering and within the limits of the law.”
The rally’s organizers have made full symbolic use of the site of their protest, which will be on the grounds of the Alamo on state-owned property that Mr. Patterson’s office is in charge of overseeing. Fliers for the event feature a Texas flag emblazoned with an assault rifle and the words, “Come and Take It, San Antonio!”
But amid such bluster, the organizers have also sought to give the event a family-friendly tone. Mr. Holcomb said they would be conducting “chamber checks” to prevent accidental discharges. Such checks, which will be done by organizers to ensure that bullets remain in the clips rather than loaded into the chamber, will be mandatory. They have also asked those participating to observe “proper muzzle etiquette” and to carry their weapons with a sling, a long strap that allows the gun to be slung over the shoulder, to “promote a nonaggressive manner of carry.”