By Lauren McGaughy
AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas group responsible for Chipotle's new "no guns" policy and famous for its public demonstrations has a new target in its sights: the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Open Carry Texas formed in early 2013 after its founder, active U.S. Army Master Sergeant CJ Grisham, was arrested for resisting arrest after a Temple policeman balked at his carrying a rifle on a hike with his son. Last year, it held armed rallies outside the Alamo and the state Capitol in Austin.
This month, it was thrust into the spotlight yet again, when Chipotle followed Starbucks' lead and banned guns in its establishments after individuals associated with the group brought semi-automatic weapons into a Dallas-area location.
Now, it is jumping into the already heated disagreement between the BLM and Texas landowners along the border with Oklahoma. The federal agency, which administers nearly 950 million acres of land and subsurface minerals, is in the process of drawing up a new land management plan for three states, including up to 90,000 acres along the Red River in north Texas. The agency says the land is and always has been in the public domain. Landowners, growing more and more vocal, say they have owned, cared for and paid taxes on the tracts for years.
While the discussion over the Red River issue had remained mostly confined to public meetings and the occasional Q&A with local and state officials, the gun rights group is seeking to expand the discussion by bringing its members into the fold. On Saturday, it is hosting an all-day, armed rally just outside the north Texas city of Burkburnett for the dual purpose advocating expanded open carry laws and decrying the BLM's land review. Two other open carry groups, Texas Carry and Come and Get It Texas, also will take part.
"What we wanted to do was just to show support and solidarity with our local ranchers and farmers," Grisham said. "The only thing — the only thing — that can stop the encroachment of the federal government is an armed populace."
Grisham is expecting between 1,000 and 1,500 people to attend the Saturday rally. Jimmy Smith, a local landowner and scheduled speaker, will offer up part of his 140 acres to host the event. Some of his land falls within the area the BLM is reviewing, Smith said Thursday.
"What we're having this weekend will give a lot of us landowners the chance to just visit and talk and share concerns," Smith said.
"Hopefully it'll bring more of a heightened awareness to (the BLM issue)."
Past gatherings hosted by Grisham's organization drew attention from local law enforcement, but were largely peaceful. Grisham was arrested last year at the Austin event for "criminal trespassing" — he was carrying a toy gun in a holster — but never was charged. The open carrying of long guns or rifles is legal in Texas; openly carrying handguns is not, a split in the law Grisham's group hopes to change.
Grisham initially said Wichita County Sheriff David Duke and Burkburnett Police Chief Ed Stahr were "completely aware and supportive of our event." Duke disputed the latter characterization, saying local, county and state law enforcement are monitoring the situation, but are not supporting or opposing the gathering. BLM officials confirmed they were not invited.
Saturday's gathering takes place almost two months after an armed standoff between BLM officials and Nevada landowners rallying behind Cliven Bundy, a local rancher who refused to pay federal grazing fees.
Grisham said his group is "not there to start World War III" and does not advocate or tolerate incendiary language or violence, but praised Bundy for standing his ground.
Copyright 2014 the Houston Chronicle
McClatchy-Tribune News Service