A punishing wind whipped through San Antonio Saturday morning, flattening the collars of the crowd gathering outside the Alamo. Small groups of men and women surrounded the Texas landmark, where roughly 200 Texans died in 1836 fighting the Mexican army, and which remains a symbol of Texas' struggle for independence. Most wore rifles or shotguns in slings across their backs. By 10am, several hundred had gathered.
They had come for the "Come And Take It" rally, a gun rights event called to emphasize the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Recent arrests by the San Antonio Police Department of three men who had publicly displayed their weapons at a Starbucks catalyzed the protest. Rally organizers classified the arrests as harassment.
While a license is required in Texas to carry a concealed handgun, it is lawful to carry a long arm in public such as a rifle or a shotgun. The only restriction on this law comes from the Texas penal code, which states that it’s an offense to “knowingly display a firearm in a public space in a manner calculated to alarm.”
Robert Sneed, executive director of Open Carry Texas, one of the organizers of the rally, criticized this clause. “The law was put into place to protect citizens against individuals who are performing an intentional action (calculated) to alarm people,” he said in an email. “This would include behavior such as, but not limited to, waving the weapon around in a threatening manner or pointing a firearm in the direction of an individual or group. The simple act of carrying a firearm in a safe, responsible and legal manner, does not constitute 'alarmed.'”
Thus, event organizers hoped to “educate Americans on their right to open carry shotguns and rifles in a safe manner and to condition Americans to feel safe around those of us that carry them.” For this reason, rally organizers emphasized gun safety at the event. They conducted mandatory chamber checks, inserting either a luminous plastic tag or a red straw to indicate that there were no rounds in the weapon. They asked that everyone wear their guns in a sling, arguing that holding a gun in the hand sends the wrong message. They asked too that no one turn up wearing load bearing vests, armor plates or military gear.
Most people complied. Ross Albert, however, a railroad worker and military veteran who carried his STAG AR 15 in a sling, declined the chamber block. “My second amendment has no restrictions,” he said. John Baird, a registered nurse and member of the Texas Citizens Militia who had volunteered to help out at the event, said that about 2 percent of rally attenders had refused a chamber check.
Rally-goers cited a number of reasons for being there. Dallas resident Ashley Carlisle, 29, travelled to San Antonio for the event. She carried a 30-30 rifle with a stock that her grandfather had rebuilt to fit her. “I’m here because our Second Amendment is being attacked. It’s important to me. I think every woman should be able to protect herself and not have to rely on a cop showing up thirty minutes later.”
Bob Leonard, 68, an Austin-based business owner, carried a 308 semi-automatic rifle. He said that he used it for “target shooting, in self defense or to fight tyranny if I have to.” He added: “We have a right to keep and bear arms. If they try to take it, we will fight them … The Obama administration is hell bent on taking away our guns.”
George Contreras, the director of membership development for the Texas Nationalist Movement, was there to gather signatures. His organization seeks to rally support for a Texas secession and needs 75,000 signatures to get the call on the 2014 Republican primary ballot. He declined to say how many signatures his group had garnered so far.
Jerry Patterson, Texas Land Commissioner and a candidate for Texas lieutenant governor, was the keynote speaker. In a suit jacket and understated cowboy boots, this bookish-looking Patterson seemed out of place among the burly crowd. However, as the author of the Texas Concealed Handgun Law, he has solid gun-right credentials. He also opposes background checks on gun purchases, believes that guns should be allowed on campuses, and supports the move to have firearm-trained staff at schools.
Though he denied that his appearance at the event had anything to do with his political campaign, he spoke with an eye for the big picture. He urged the throng to focus their anger at lawmakers rather than at police officers, arguing that it was in city councils and county commissioners’ courts that laws restricting gun rights emerge.
Alex Jones, the libertarian talk-show host, followed Patterson with a more impassioned speech. Wearing polarizing sunglasses and a weapon slung across his back, he launched into a finger-pointing tirade that both energized the crowd and broke his voice. “You have a right to self defense, and that’s what this is all about!” he shouted. “There is a fight worldwide to take your guns … the globalists are accelerating a program to take over … They want all our guns. They are not misguided liberals. They are authoritarians who want to make us their slaves.”
By coincidence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was also in downtown San Antonio Saturday. The San Antonio chapter, spearheaded by regional ambassador Jamie Addams, had their inaugural meeting just a few blocks down the road from the Alamo. Safety was their primary concern. “We’re being told, ‘Just trust us,’” said Addams, “but Texas law means that anyone can buy a gun without a background check. We don’t know if the guys here have had background checks, if they’re domestic abusers, or felons, if they have mental health history, or if they’re just having a rough day.”
Similarly, Sandy Philips, whose daughter was killed in the Aurora Theatre shooting and who now works full time for The Brady Campaign, felt strongly that the protestors outside the Alamo were irresponsible. “I’m a gun owner,” said Phillips, but I’d never carry my gun around in a public forum like the Alamo.” She dismissed their insistence that they are law-abiding citizens. “The man that killed my daughter was a law-abiding citizen till he killed my daughter,” she said.