Arlington Loses Battle Against Armed Activists
FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) - A group in Texas that has gun-strapped members approach cars to demonstrate the right to openly carry firearms persuaded a federal judge to strike down a leafleting ban.
Open Carry Tarrant County regularly holds "group walks" to pass out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution to passersby and motorists while openly carrying rifles.
After two of its members received tickets in March for doing so near Arlington's entertainment district, the group filed a federal complaint against the city.
The citations were later dropped, and the city council amended Section 15.02 under the "Streets and Sidewalks" chapter of its ordinances to ban distribution of literature on streets with significant traffic.
Fines were also increased to $500 per violation. The city argued the changes were to promote the safety of pedestrians and motorists.
U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor deemed the changes unenforceable Monday, finding that the city's streets and sidewalks are traditional public forums.
The ordinance "is overinclusive and burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to achieve its interest in pedestrian and traffic safety," the 26-page opinion states. "An ordinance must 'focus on the source of the evils the city seeks to eliminate .. and eliminate them without at the same time banning or significantly restricting a substantial quantity of speech that does not create the same evils.'"
The ban would cover someone hailing a cab and discussing the fare, O'Connor wrote. It would also cover a worker soliciting drivers to park in his parking lot during game days at nearby AT&T Stadium or Globe Life Park in Arlington - the homes of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers.
"Rather than merely prohibiting people from entering roadways to interact with occupants of vehicles, amended Section 15.02 prohibits pedestrians from interacting with occupants of vehicles even while the pedestrian is standing on the sidewalk or on the shoulder and the vehicle is stopped," the opinion states. "The amended Section 15.02 also establishes 500 and 1000 foot zones for the intersections listed in Sections 15.03(A.) and (B.), but the city failed to provide any evidence as to how these zones were determined."
Arlington has "a number of less restrictive means" of achieving its safety goals, O'Connor wrote.
"Arlington acknowledges that there are existing traffic ordinances that prohibit people from entering the roadway," the opinion states. "Arlington can enforce the law prohibiting pedestrians from suddenly leaving 'a curb or other place of safety' and entering the crosswalk 'in the path of a vehicle so close that it is impossible for the vehicle operator to yield, the prohibition against 'walk[ing] along and on a roadway if an adjacent sidewalk is provided and is accessible,' or Arlington's ordinance prohibiting a person from obstructing a public sidewalk, shoulder, street, or roadway. The court 'cannot ignore the existence of these readily available alternatives.'"
City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.