Cars stopped, shop owners stared, and bystanders recorded video of several hundred armed gun-rights activists who marched through Olmos Park on Saturday to the front door of its City Hall to submit petitions demanding the resignation of the municipality’s police chief.
Open Carry Texas, a gun-rights advocacy group, organized the rally after members of the Olmos Park police department, including Chief Rene Valenciano, used a taser during the March 27 arrest of Christopher “CJ” Grisham, the group’s president and founder, while he openly carried a firearm.
At the time of Grisham’s arrest, an Olmos Park ordinance banned the open carry of rifles and shotguns in a public place by anyone other than a law enforcement official, which conflicts with state law. Olmos Park’s City Council repealed that ordinance shortly after the arrest. However, Grisham faces other charges stemming from the encounter with police, including a felony charge of assault on a police officer.
Grisham’s supporters say that Olmos Park police, including Valenciano, used excessive force. A video of the arrest posted on YouTube, sparked outrage among gun rights supporters and prompted the petition drive, which also demands the charges against Grisham, a Temple resident, be dropped.
“Open carry of firearms is legal in Texas, and cities and police must respect our gun rights, our Constitutional rights, our civil rights, and the laws of the State of Texas,” the petition states.
“We support our police department and its leadership,” said Olmos Park resident Denise DeGeare, who watched the march from her condo near City Hall. She and her husband, Joe, said they both supported open carry and hold concealed-handgun licenses, but Denise DeGeare said that she thought the video was “sensationalized” and used by people outside Olmos Park for political purposes.
“I feel like [the police] were doing what they were instructed to do based on ordinances that were in place at the time,” she said. “So for them to demand that our police chief be out of office is ridiculous.”
Marchers carried a variety of firearms, including assault-style rifles, other semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and even musket-style weapons. Other marchers carried handguns in holsters or tucked into waistbands. Some people dressed in camouflage fatigues, helmets, and kevlar vests that had extra ammunition magazines attached to them.
Organizers estimated that at least 350 people participated in the march, which began just outside the municipality’s limits. There was little police presence visible throughout the duration of the march. San Antonio Police Department officers occasionally directed traffic, and at least one unmarked police SUV appeared to be monitoring the marchers as they traveled along McCullough Avenue.
Ohio resident Jeffry Smith said he drove to San Antonio to participate in the rally after seeing the video of Grisham’s arrest.
“If you don’t use your rights you lose them,” said Smith.
The state of Texas allows for the open carry of rifles and shotguns, and since Jan. 1, 2016, it has been legal for Texans with concealed-carry handgun licenses to openly carry handguns.
Yet Becca Defelice, one of six other mothers from Olmos Park and Alamo Heights protesting the rally, argued that the open carry of rifles violates a separate state disorderly conduct ordinance that says a person commits an offense if an individual “displays a firearm or other deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm.”
“In what universe does that not shock or make you feel threatened when you see 400 people open carrying long guns down a residential street?” Defelice said. “That causes alarm.”
Alamo Heights, another municipality within San Antonio, on Wednesday repealed its ordinance banning the open carry of rifles and shotguns.
Defelice said she understood why Alamo Heights had to repeal the ordinance. However, she said that she wanted to see the Texas Legislature overturn open carry in its next session or require licensing to openly carry a rifle or shotgun.
David Amad, vice president of Open Carry Texas, said that no one participating in the rally carried weapons to cause alarm, and noted that organizers instructed the marchers to carry their weapons pointed to the ground.
“All of these folks are carrying their weapons in a manner calculated to educate,” Amad said. “Calculated just to exercise their rights, not to scare anybody.”
Members of This Is Texas Freedom Force, which describes itself as a Texans’ rights group, also participated in the march. Kerrie Hillyer, a TITFF representative, said the group would continue to protest what it called illegal open carry ordinances around Bexar County. While Olmos Park, Alamo Heights, and Hollywood Park have repealed ordinances banning the open carry of rifles and shotguns in public places, she said they would examine similar ordinances in the municipalities of Live Oak and Windcrest.
The march concluded at the Olmos Park City Hall, where Amad attempted to deliver the stack of petitions. No one exited the building to take the petitions or speak with the demonstrators.
“If they think this is the last event, they’ve lost their mind,” Amad said to the crowd outside City Hall. “We’re going to come back, and come back, and keep coming back until they clean up their act, do what’s right, and start respecting the rights of the citizens of the state of Texas.”