FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A Texas gun-rights group known for openly carrying firearms has distanced itself from a local affiliate after police said armed members entered fast-food restaurants and frightened employees and customers twice in recent weeks.
Fort Worth police say they responded to a bystander's 911 call last week reporting that a group of men carrying rifles and shotguns had entered a Jack in the Box. Police say the restaurant's employees locked themselves in a freezer.
Jack in the Box spokesman Brian Luscomb could not confirm that employees hid in a freezer. Both Open Carry Texas and the affiliate, Open Carry Tarrant County, dispute that account but are parting ways because of a disagreement on how their signature protests are carried out — exposing a rift in the state's pro-gun movement.
Open Carry Texas has a policy that authorities must be notified in advance and that demonstrators should carry flags with the group's logo, according to founder C.J. Grisham.
"We're out there to make people feel comfortable. Whenever we do our events, we always let the police know," Grisham said, adding that the Tarrant County group's "desire to resist that effort" was harming the cause for more gun rights in Texas.
Earlier this month, Open Carry Tarrant County members with guns spooked customers when they strolled toward a Wendy's, also prompting a call to police.
The open-carry movement was triggered last year when police arrested Grisham for interfering with police duties. He was walking in the outskirts of Temple, Texas, with an assault rifle over his shoulder when an officer approached. His son videotaped his arrest and broadcast it on YouTube, inspiring a wave of support for Grisham. After being jailed briefly, he was tried and found guilty, and a jury fined him $2,000. He is currently appealing the verdict. In the meantime, Open Carry Texas has grown to 16,000 members, and there are dozens of loosely affiliated offshoots, like Open Carry Tarrant County.
Texas has some of the most liberal gun laws in the country, but openly carrying handguns is illegal. Open-carry groups are lobbying the Texas Legislature to change this rule.
Kory Watkins, the Tarrant County group's coordinator, said notifying police ahead of the group's thrice-weekly marches would contradict the statement they are hoping to make.
"We don't ask for permission or call anybody. We're trying to make this as normal as possible," he said.
Watkins, 30, is running as a Republican candidate for the local school board, and advocates arming teachers and school administrators.
"I don't see why anybody would think a gun-free zone is a good thing," he said.