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What to Expect From the First SXSW Under Texas' Open Carry Law

Open carry demonstrators outside the Texas State Capitol during the legislative session in 2015. With the new law in effect this SXSW, the Austin Police Department says it doesn't expect an uptick in calls related to the controversial law.
Open carry demonstrators outside the Texas State Capitol during the legislative session in 2015. With the new law in effect this SXSW, the Austin Police Department says it doesn't expect an uptick in calls related to the controversial law.

With the Texas open carry law in effect, visitors at this year’s South by Southwest festival could see more guns in public.

For the third year in a row, gun rights activists are planning to take to the streets at SXSW, openly displaying their firearms. Before this year, they could only legally carry long guns like rifles and shotguns. But Texas' open carry law, which went into effect in January, allows license holders to visibly wear a wide range of firearms, as long as they’re in a holster.

“We don’t have any change to our security plans based on the open carry law,” says Chris McIlvain, assistant chief at the Austin Police Department. He says officers won’t be taking any extra steps to warn visitors that they might see guns in public.

“We don’t anticipate doing so at this time. We really haven’t seen much of an increase in call volume within the city with relation to the open carry law, so we really don’t see that being much of an issue.”

McIlvain says APD will respond to calls from concerned citizens, but he suggests that those people may just need more education on the law.

“Obviously, if someone gives us information that it’s more than someone just openly carrying — that there might be some threat associated with the individual — then we will respond accordingly.”

SXSW organizers declined to comment, but did point to the festival’s weapons-free policy. It bans guns at any official SXSW event and warns that violators could have their credentials revoked. But, that policy won’t apply to the dozens of demonstrators who plan to openly carry their guns down on Sixth Street.

Businesses like the Wheatsville Co-Op on Guadalupe can opt-out of open carry by posting proper signage to effectively ban open carry and concealed carry on their premises.
Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT
Businesses like the Wheatsville Co-Op on Guadalupe can opt-out of open carry by posting proper signage to effectively ban open carry and concealed carry on their premises.

  “Our little tagline is that open carry isn’t scary,” says C.J. Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas. The activist group plans to have gun-toting members present every day at SXSW. Grisham says they’re trying to change public opinion about firearms.

“Seeing a gun in public doesn’t always equate to the fact that someone’s going to get shot. We’re trying to show the lighter, the friendlier side of gun ownership.”

Grisham will join other Open Carry Texas members to pass out flyers and answer questions. He’s hoping to break the ice with some open carry skeptics.

“When people actually look at the person and not look at the object that they’re so focused on, I think those people will realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

South by Southwest Interactive kicks off this Friday and continues through March 19.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

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