Indri Schaelicke | United States
I had the amazing opportunity to interview the founder and current President/CEO of Open Carry Texas, CJ Grisham. We discussed the organization’s goals and feats so far, as well as some of the current gun-related issues in the news today.
Schaelicke: What is Open Carry Texas? What is your Mission Statement?
Grisham: Our purpose is to: 1 Educate all Texans about their right to carry in the State of Texas; 2 Condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry; 3 Pressure elected officials to repeal restrictive and unconstitutional gun legislation; 4 Foster a cooperative relationship with local law enforcement in the furtherance of these goals with an eye towards preventing negative encounters, while defending our rights.
Schaelicke: What was your motivation for creating this organization?
Grisham: On March 16, 2013, I was falsely arrested for the lawful carry of a firearm and the NRA refused to help me with my case. It was that moment where I realized that Texas needed an organization to defend our gun rights more aggressively and unapologetically. I also realized that our gun laws were too restrictive for law abiding citizens. At the time, we were one of only six states that banned open carry of handguns.
Schaelicke: What do you do to achieve your agenda? Do you hold events or lobby for specific legislation?
Grisham: We held rallies, encouraged people all across the state to openly carry their rifles since that was legal, and then lobbied our legislators to pass less restrictive gun laws like open carry and campus carry.
Schaelicke: Do you view gun control as being pushed for by both parties, or is only one responsible for the drastic reduction in American gun rights?
Grisham: To some degree, both major political parties are responsible to some degree for gun control legislation. Without a doubt, the Democrat party is more offensive to gun rights, but the Republicans are very good at caving to them to appear compromising. When the Republicans compromise, it means we lose more liberty and rights.
Schaelicke: Why do gun rights matter to you, both personally and as an organization?
Grisham: Personally, gun rights matter to me because as a combat veteran, I’ve seen what happens when the populace is disarmed. Government is capable of doing whatever it wants. Additionally, I have a fundamental and inalienable right to life, which means I have a fundamental and inalienable right to protect that life. Gun rights are the great equalizer between predator and prey. As an organization, it’s important because defending rights on a larger scale matter. We can accomplish more when we come together as a common cause and goal.
Schaelicke: Obviously, running such an organization requires large amounts of funding. How is Open Carry Texas financed?
Grisham: We don’t require large amounts of funding because we have no overhead. No one in Open Carry Texas is paid and we don’t have physical offices. We are a truly grassroots organization. We are funded through donation from supporters, typically between $2.23 to $30.06 per month. We do not have any major sponsors or donors outside of those individual donors. Every year, we also hold a raffle to raise money for our operations. When we need to purchase a big ticket item, we’ll also hold a crowdfunding effort to do so. If we don’t have the money, we don’t do it. So far, we’ve been able to raise money for all of our needs.
Schaelicke: Does this financing method present any challenges to the organization, or is it promoting its growth?
Grisham: It’s definitely difficult because we never know exactly how much we have from month to month. Our donors come and go. We circumvent this problem by paying most of our bills (internet hosting, website, email, insurance, etc) in five-year increments. We are looking into growing the organization through a paid membership that will allow us to hire a full-time employee, but that is resource and time consuming.
Schaelicke: What is the biggest struggle OCT has faced and overcome so far?
Grisham: Learning how to handle media and understanding optics of our events. When I started OCT, I just assumed people understood what we were fighting for and underestimated how the media loves to twist and distort facts. We were frequently presented in a much different light in the media compared to the reality on the ground and we were a little slow in adapting to a way of countering that. Once we realized how to control our own narrative, things have gone much smoother.
Schaelicke: Is your work specifically related to second amendment issues, or do your efforts concern other civil rights?
Grisham: We are a civil rights organization focused on the 2nd amendment. However, we also fight against violations of our 1st and 4th amendment rights which tend to coincide with our activism. For example, in order to push our agenda, it’s important we be able to exercise our 1st amendment right to protest and seek redress from government. As we exercise our 2nd amendment rights, it’s also important that we protect and defend the 4th amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures. So, we educate our members about when they are required to get licenses for protests and when they don’t; when they have to provide their identification or not resist a search. It’s also important that they understand the scope of their 5th amendment rights when being questioned.
Schaelicke: What is OCT’s proposed solution to ending school shootings? Why is this the best proposal out of the many out there?
Grisham: There is no single solution to ending school shootings. However, there are ways to greatly reduce them, beginning with controlling entrances and exits at schools. We support allowing teachers and administrators who choose to do so to arm themselves in self-defense and defense of their students. We fight to end all gun free zones so that our schools are hardened targets. Even hardened targets get attacked, but with much less frequency than soft targets, like gun free zones. We also need to re-introduce gun safety training into our schools. This doesn’t mean we train kids to fear guns, but to respect them by teaching them how to safely handle them as well as the consequences of handling them irresponsibly. If we take away the fear aspect, we regain the respect aspect.
Schaelicke: Why should people care about gun rights?
Grisham: Because if people pay attention to history, societies that are disarmed are much more turbulent and violent. When a society is armed, government is held in check and is less likely to become tyrannical. We gained our independence from tyranny because of the right to keep and bear arms. We overcame slavery because of the right to keep and bear arms. Gun rights ensure that we are capable of being responsible for our own safety instead of having to rely on government to do so for us. Police cannot be everywhere at once and don’t prevent crimes; they merely respond to them. It is incumbent upon us to be our own first line of defense against violence.
Schaelicke: The work of Defense Distributed, the company famous for selling the code to produce 3D printed guns, has caused many to question the legitimacy of working within the framework of existing laws. Is there a degree of moral or pragmatic right in breaking the law to secure gun rights?
Grisham: Nothing Defense Distributed did broke any laws. We don’t support breaking any laws, provided they are constitutional, at which point people need to assess the risk/benefit gained from ignoring unconstitutional laws.
Schaelicke: If someone would like to get involved in pro-gun activism, how can they do so?
Grisham: They can go to www.opencarrytexas.org or their local, grassroots gun rights organization and sign up to learn more. They can join us at our events, follow our social media, or help us through other forms of activism like sending emails or making phone calls. Additionally, they can financially support organizations like ours who are fighting hard to protect the rights so many have died to protect.
Schaelicke: Is there anything you would like to share with the readers that you have not had a chance to speak about so far?
Grisham: More than anything else, the 2nd amendment is about self-DEFENSE. The use of force is NEVER legitimate when used in the offense, but is always right in defense of it. Modern society is no more or less dangerous than other times in history; the difference is simply the means of creating danger. I and Open Carry Texas never condone violence except in self-defense. We believe that to lower violent crimes, our justice system needs to be drastically overhauled. Prison should be a place where no one wants to go, but today’s prisons are practically resorts where people go and will be fed, clothed, housed, and taken care of. Instead of having cable TV, crunchy peanut butter, and other niceties, prison should include hard labor and sentences should fit the crime. Then, once a person has served their time, all rights should be restored so that they can be re-integrated into society. The problem we have is that criminals get out of prison and our society treats them as criminals the rest of their lives. They find it hard to get jobs that allow for advancement in quality of life. Many people find that the only way they can survive is returning to illegitimate sources of income – crime. If we don’t fix our justice system, we will never fix the violence problem in our country. We also need to stop coddling kids and pretending that there are no losers. Kids need to grow up understanding disappointment and that not all people are created equally. No one is special and everyone has different talents – some have none. This will teach kids to deal with emotions like sadness, anger, and defeat more productively instead of resorting to violence. We need to teach more conflict management.
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