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Gun Rights Group Threatens Second Lawsuit

ARLINGTON, Texas (CN) - Open carry activists warned a Dallas suburb that it will face a second federal lawsuit over changes to a sidewalk ordinance that banned their armed members from handing out the Constitution to motorists.

Open Carry Tarrant County and its coordinator, Kory Watkins, sued Arlington in May in Fort Worth Federal Court, challenging the city's "Streets and Sidewalks" ordinance.

The City Council banned the handing of literature to motorists at streets with significant traffic and imposed fines of $500 per citation.

Open Carry holds "group walks" in which members hand out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution to passersby and motorists while carrying rifles and other guns.

The group caught the attention of city officials when it began holding walks in the city's entertainment district that, which AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park in Arlington - the homes of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers - and the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park.

Arlington officials cited safety concerns in enacting the ordinance.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor struck down the ordinance in July as overreaching, finding the city has "a number of less restrictive means" of reaching safety goals.

By a 7-1 vote Tuesday night, the Arlington City Council approved revisions to make the ordinance less speech-restrictive.

City Attorney Jay Doegey told the Council the changes still are "designed to get people out of the roadway."

"As long as they stay out of the roadway they can hand out literature," Doegey said. "We as a city are trying to walk the tightrope of regulating public safety and protecting people's First Amendment rights. But we have compelling interest to protect public safety."

Doegey noted the "epidemic" of pedestrian injuries in Texas: the state ranks first in the nation in pedestrian deaths.

"We believe this ordinance meets the balance [necessary] in protecting the public and that everyone has ample opportunity to say their piece," he said.

Under the amended ordinance, citizens will be able to hand literature to drivers from an unpaved shoulder or paved sidewalk. They will be given a citation if they hand out items from the road itself, or from an island or median.

In spite of disagreeing with the council's changes, Watkins struck a conciliatory tone at City Hall. He thanked council members for their "efforts in balancing" safety and free speech concerns.

"Unfortunately, what you have is not that," Watkins said before the council's vote. "The main role of government is to protect our liberty and freedom. Safety ... we're all grown-ups. If I hand a person something and they are asking for it, I should be able to do that."

Other Open Carry members were not as diplomatic. One unidentified speaker told the council their actions were "embarrassing for our city."

"We've been to court already; do we really want to go back to federal court?" he asked. "We are just handing out the Constitution. The firefighters do it. It's not the government's job to keep us safe. It's just getting tiring."

Open Carry member Chris Donahue told the council, "We're going to have to go to court again with this."

"I have a big problem with that," he said. "This is a gross misappropriation of taxpayer money. Restricting [us] to the right lane of traffic only? That's unconstitutional."

Donahue challenged Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck and the eight council members to pay the city's legal costs of the case themselves.

Drew Johnson, a student at Texas A&M University School of Law, told the council "we don't need an ordinance to tell citizens to stay out" of the roads.

"As a citizen and resident, I want our city to be better," he said. "In my view this ordinance will infringe on the freedom and liberty or our citizens."

Johnson is not affiliated with Open Carry. He is "just a concerned citizen," he said.

Follow @davejourno
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