Protests in Olmos Park over how local government enforces gun laws is leading to sweeping changes for open-carry rules in that city, Alamo Heights and Hollywood Park.
A recent march by hundreds of gun-rights supporters protesting in Olmos Park is the latest major turn in the debate; it was sparked by the earlier arrests of Open Carry Texas activists who said they were legally carrying firearms in the city.
While state law allows residents to openly bear rifles and shotguns, or long guns, in public spaces, Olmos Park had an ordinance prohibiting the display of the loaded weapons on city streets except by police officers. The local law has since been repealed.
“The law Olmos Park police ostensibly used to physically assault, brutally arrest and facetiously charge Open Carry Texas leaders is in such violation of state law that the Olmos Park City Council immediately repealed the ordinance,” David Amad, OCT vice president, said in a press release.
About 300 people marched from nearby Kenwood Park in San Antonio to Olmos Park City Hall on April 7, with many toting handguns, shotguns and rifles.
During the peaceful event, protesters demanded the firing or resignation of Police Chief Rene Valenciano. Others argued police departments should not exceed their authority on open carry-related laws.
The march was planned before Olmos Park police arrested OCT leaders C.J. Grisham and Jim Everard on March 27. That was the latest in confrontations between gun-rights backers and police in the upscale community of 2,400.
OCT officials criticized the Olmos Park ordinance that restricted anyone other than peace officers from carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun in city limits.
Critics argue, however, that officers have a legitimate reason to question individuals who are walking around with AR-15s and other assault-style weapons commonly used in mass shootings.
The Olmos Park City Council voted March 29 to repeal its ordinance. Alamo Heights and Hollywood Park — with similar ordinances — quickly followed. Their respective police chiefs and city attorneys said their local rules appeared to violate state law.
As of press time, Grisham still faced a charge of interfering with a public servant’s performance of duties, but the city dropped its open-carry case against him.
“Nothing at this time,” Olmos Park Mayor Ronald Hornberger said April 11 when reached for comment. No other Olmos Park official publicly addressed the local controversy by mid-April.
Chris Bird, a local gun-rights advocate/author and concealed handgun instructor, suggested Olmos Park may still have to address repercussions.
“Olmos Park police seem like they were out of line,” he said, adding that it’s vital for local law-enforcement officers to be fully informed and updated on all gun-related laws.
Bird said protesters have a legitimate argument that local gun control regulation is inconsistent across Texas.
“What you have is a situation that you’re legal for concealed carry in San Antonio, but not as you go to Houston, in the cities and counties you pass through,” he added.
Alamo Heights Mayor Bobby Rosenthal later said the publicity surrounding the Olmos Park debate prompted his city to act, adding the Police Department, which handles dispatch duties for Olmos Park and Terrell Hills, saw its call volume rise during the controversy.
“We are all concerned with gun violence, especially in schools, but we believe this is a separate issue,” Rosenthal said. “The repeal of the ordinance does not in any way suggest the council, city staff or our citizens are for or against the state law. That is a matter for people to deal with at the state level, not the municipal level.”
Alamo Heights Police Chief Rick Pruitt told his council April 4 that his officers will continue to investigate any case of openly displayed rifles and shotguns.
State open-carry laws affect only public property. Businesses are allowed to post signage regarding firearm possession. Some area residents applauded the repeals and protests. Others expressed varying concerns.
“Residents who are disturbed by the open carry of long guns in Olmos Park should contact their state legislators,” former Olmos Park Councilwoman Pat Semmes said. “I would like to see an outside, independent investigation of the situation and for City Council to follow any recommended changes.”
“I feel safer with guns around,” Alamo Heights-area resident Joe Medrano said. “Don’t violate the rights of law-abiding citizens. I do not want criminals to be the only ones with guns.”
Former Olmos Park Councilman Jeff Judson, now an Alamo Heights homeowner, called out his former city for its “heavy-handed police tactics” against gun-rights activists.
He and OCT members praised San Antonio police and Bexar County sheriff’s deputies, who provided security for the April 7 rally.
Angela Rabke of the Monte Vista Historic District was one of a few residents who countered the gun-rights marchers. A self-proclaimed gun owner and Second Amendment supporter, Rabke called unlicensed open carry of rifles unacceptable.
“It places a burden on law enforcement and on citizens like me to assess the intentions of people when they are carrying, especially when they are carrying the type of weapons that are often used in the mass shootings that happen regularly in this country,” she added.