TEMPLE — The Libertarian Party of Texas’ state convention got off to a strong start with the Come and Take it Rally, a pro-Second Amendment event, outside of the Frank W. Mayborn Civic and Convention Center on Friday afternoon.
The biennial convention was expected to bring about 200 delegates and candidates to the area for three days of workshops, debates and rallies.
The rally was hosted by Open Carry Texas, a loose-knit group advocating for the right to openly carry handguns in addition to the already legal right to openly carry rifles and shotguns.
Heather Fazio, membership director for the Libertarian Party of Texas, opened the rally with a literal call to arms.
“The Second Amendment is about more than just carrying weapons,” Fazio said. “It’s about self-defense.”
Fazio likened Texas’ prohibitions against openly carrying pistols to New York and California, states known for restrictive gun control laws. Fazio was followed by Kory Watkins, a well-known figure in gun rights and Liberty Movement circles and a member of Open Carry Texas.
Watkins, like many open- carry advocates, is opposed to any governmental involvement in gun ownership, a stance referred to as “constitutional carry.”
“We may have open carry, but (the government) will make us get a license, pay a tax and ask permission,” Watkins said. “You don’t need to ask your government for permission to bear arms.”
“People say that they don’t like the ‘in your face attitude’ carrying a long gun has,” Watkins said to the crowd, which ranged from retirees in wheelchairs to 20- and 30-year-olds with neck tattoos and facial piercings. “When is it ‘in your face’ to exercise your rights?”
Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works, an Austin-area firearms dealer that recently became the first gun store in the nation to accept the digital crypto-currency Bitcoin for transactions, also took the stage.
“When people mention me, the first sentence they usually say is ‘he’s that black, gay gun store owner,” Cargill said, as the crowd erupted in applause.
“Gun control laws in Texas were started as a way to keep guns out of the hands of newly freed slaves,” he said. “Gun control was started because some people were terrified by the idea of someone different from them carrying a gun.”
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Christopher “C.J.” Grisham was the rally’s headline speaker. Grisham gained the attention of gun-rights advocates and national media outlets after a cellphone video of his March 16, 2013, arrest by Temple police Officer Steve Ermis went viral.
Ermis arrested Grisham while he and his son were on a 10-mile hike for a Boy Scout merit badge. The elder Grisham carried an AR-15 rifle and a concealed handgun, for which he had a permit. Although Grisham would later claim that he was carrying the weapons for personal protection against feral hogs and coyotes, when Ermis initially asked him why he had the rifle Grisham said, “Because I can.”
Grisham addressed one of the lingering criticisms about his arrest and treatment by law enforcement officers.
“Law enforcement is still enforcing laws differently,” Grisham said. “I have no doubt that if I’d been a black man doing what I did with my son, I’d be dead right now.”