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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Lawmakers Hit Panic Button On Guns

DALLAS (CN) - Texas lawmakers quickly approved the use of panic buttons at their offices after a tense confrontation with open-carry supporters at the Texas Capitol on the first day of the legislative session.

Written by state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, the amendments to House Rule No. 3 passed on Wednesday. They allow representatives and staff to exclude visitors from their offices at their discretion.

"If a person refuses to leave the member's office when requested the member may request assistance from the Department of Public Safety," the amendments state .

The amendments provide the option of installing a panic button in each office to alert state troopers of an emergency.

The new rules came one day after members of Open Carry Tarrant County lobbied lawmakers in their Capitol offices to support a measure by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, to repeal handgun licensing requirements in Texas.

In a video posted on Facebook by Open Carry Tarrant County coordinator Kory Watkins, Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, is shown declining to support the bill in his office Tuesday

A smiling Nevarez is shown shaking hands with a group member in his office and urging them to "shop" for the votes they need to pass the measure. Off-camera group members then aggressively ask Nevarez if he supports the Constitution and 2nd Amendment, telling him "constitutional carry is coming to Texas."

"All right, so is Santa Claus," Nevarez responded.

The comment upset the group, with off-camera members berating Nevarez as "a tyrant of the Constitution" and, "You need to find a new job, bro."

Nevarez then asks the openly hostile group to leave his office several times, asking for help from state troopers.

"This was fun for a while. Let's go," he said, motioning for the group members to leave. The departing cameraman appears to partially block the door on his way out to prevent Nevarez from closing the door before finally stepping back.

Watkins posted the video soon after, saying, "Nevarez is not for the people."

Nevarez told the Texas Tribune he "loathes" throwing people out of his office.

"I've never had to do that, ever, and I hope I never have to do that again," he said Tuesday. "It's not a good way to talk about things; it's not my way. I feel sorry for those folks who truly believe in the issue and don't run around calling people names. I feel sorry for them because their cause is hurt."

Open Carry Texas founder CJ Grisham told the Tribune he accompanied the group during the Capitol office visits, but left before the confrontation because he disapproved of their interactions with lawmakers.

"I just can't believe the utter lack of professionalism, tact and, really, common courtesy that I saw today," Grisham said. "It was intimidation, it was talking down, it was speaking over, it was childishness, and it did absolutely zero to even engage in conversation."

Open Carry Tarrant County has been no stranger to controversy. It successfully sued Arlington last year over an ordinance aimed at stopping its "group walks" in which group members hand out copies of the Constitution to passersby and motorists while carrying rifles. A federal judge ruled in July that ordinance restricted speech .

Open carry advocates in Texas have drawn criticism and ridicule nationwide for other places they have carried their rifles, including a Chipotle restaurant in downtown Dallas last year. Chipotle, Target and other retailers responded by asking customers to stop carrying firearms into their stores.

Open Carry Tarrant County caught the attention of Arlington officials when it began holding walks in the city's entertainment district, which includes 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. They amended the ordinance in October to make it less speech-restrictive, but Open Carry Tarrant County members have threatened additional litigation .

In December, a purported member of the group was arrested for allegedly shooting and killing her husband and daughter in a domestic dispute in Arlington.

Veronica Dunnachie, 35, is identified on the group's Facebook profile as a member "dedicated to the cause."

Her Facebook profile showed her at open carry rallies and at firing ranges with assorted rifles and handguns. Watkins has denied that she is a member of the group.

Follow @davejourno
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