For the third year in a row, CJ Grisham, founder and organizer of Open Carry Texas, planned to lead his social movement of pro-second Amendment protesters in openly carrying their firearms during the annual South by Southwest cultural festival in Austin which occurred March 11-15. This year things were a little different than in past years, because of the passage of Texas House Bill 910, which became effect January 1st of 2016, making the open carry of handguns, not just rifles, legal to Texas conceal carry permit holders. More notably though, president Obama was a keynote speaker at the festival, and he spoke to festival goers on Friday March 11th.
The proximity of the protest to the president and possibility of an encounter between armed citizens and the President and the secret service caused some concern. It drew attention from local law enforcement and was noted by the secret service, after a commenter on Grisham’s Facebook page suggested that if they got close to the president to “fire for effect.” While many other commenters quickly pointed out the foolishness of even suggesting a presidential potshot, it still increased concern and tensions further. Robert Hoback, a spokesman for the Secret Service said that the president’s security team “is aware of the posting and conducting appropriate follow-up.” He also told reporters that Sections 3056 and 1752 of Title 18 in the U.S. Code give the agency the right to prevent “firearms from entering sites visited by” officials they are protecting, “including those located in open-carry states.”
“Only authorized law enforcement personnel working in conjunction with the Secret Service for a particular event may carry a firearm inside of the protected site,” Hoback said. “Individuals determined to be carrying firearms will not be allowed past a predetermined outer perimeter checkpoint, regardless of whether they possess a ticket to the event.”
In response to the negative press, Grisham focused on making the protest a positive thing, and insisted on continuing forward with his plans. “We’re going to go, and we’re going to do our event the way we normally do our event,” he said. “We’re there peacefully and lawfully to exercise our rights and hand out educational materials and nothing more. That’s it. We’re not going to be dictated to by any government entity in public to say we can or can’t exercise our rights just because some human being decided he wants to take a left down a street we just happen to be on.” However he noted: “I prefer to stay as far away from President Obama as possible.”
In the end, the protest did not approach the perimeter for Obama’s event, and went off successfully. The Open Carry Texas group was near the Capitol on the North side of the Colorado river, while the president spoke south of the river.