Armed protest at the Alamo to promote gun rights
The San Antonio (Texas) Express-News
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — At least 1,500 demonstrators with rifles and other firearms were expected to gather Saturday at the Alamo, in the face of forces they feel are at work to undermine their right to bear arms.
“There's never been an event like this before at the Alamo,” said Murdoch Pizgatti, an event coordinator who lives in the Dallas area and is co-founder of the gun-rights website dontcomply.com.
The rally is set to open at 10 a.m. with remarks by three political candidates and several gun-rights advocates. Demonstrators, many carrying rifles, shotguns or 19th-century pistols, will then walk a few blocks at about 12:30 p.m. to Travis Park for an “open mic” session.
Some demonstrators will have loaded firearms. Safety crews will check to make sure there's not a round in the chamber that could discharge, organizers said.
The group will return to the Alamo and disperse at about 2 p.m., although the event could run later, Pizgatti said.
The rally already has generated controversy. It is believed to be the first free-speech demonstration of its kind to be held in front of the mission-era church of the Alamo, site of a famed 1836 siege and battle for Texas independence and later a U.S. Army depot.
Fidel Castillo, a Native American activist and Yaqui descendant, said the event, held where mission Indians were buried, is an affront to the memory of indigenous people who built the mission that later became a military post.
“This violates the sanctity of the grounds and values indigenous people hold most dear,” Castillo said in a release.
He questioned whether the rally is “self-serving” for Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who oversees the shrine, is running for lieutenant governor and is slated to speak.
Patterson, who wrote the state's 1996 concealed handgun law, has emphasized support for gun rights in his campaign.
“To us, there is an appearance of impropriety,” Castillo said. “It would be wonderful to have the opportunity to share our history and narrative on the Mission San Antonio de Valero site in a dignified and proud way, along with everyone else.”
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, whose district includes the Alamo, said she's worried about the political tone of the event and precedent it sets for allowing demonstrations on the state-owned grounds.
“Very troubling if this is a political rally instead on an issues rally,” said Van de Putte, who sponsored a 2011 bill that shifted Alamo custodianship from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to Patterson's agency, the General Land Office.
“The First and Second Amendments rights are too precious, and our shrine is too important to be used as window dressing as a political backdrop,” she said.
Patterson has dismissed the criticism as a product of “media hype” of the rally, saying it will “help normalize the sight of an armed citizen.”
“The main goal of Saturday's rally at the Alamo is simple: the peaceful exercise of a right we fear losing,” he said in an editorial this week.
Patterson has said his staff is working on a policy that would prohibit political and for-profit events at the Alamo. He said he couldn't stop the gun-rights activists from entering the grounds, which are visited by 1.3 million people annually, including families and school groups.
One of the Alamo's roughly 90 employees who are barred from talking to the media said the rally will discourage people from visiting the site on a Saturday that normally would draw about 2,000 visitors.
“This is going to happen tomorrow, when parents bring their children to the Alamo with great anticipation of learning about the legacy of this shrine, only to be greeted by these over-the-top zealots with guns in their hands,” the employee said. “This image will be burned into their memories forever.”
The DRT, Alamo custodians from 1905 to 2011, typically only allowed patriotic ceremonies, educational events and fundraisers on the Alamo grounds. The group, now providing daily operations under a state contract, referred questions about the rally to the Land Office.
Gun-rights groups sponsoring the event believe San Antonio and other cities have local ordinances that undermine basic constitutional freedoms to carry weapons openly.
The rally will demonstrate that despite gun violence of the past, firearms can be openly handled by large groups in densely populated areas without posing a risk to the public, Pizgatti said.
Police Chief William McManus said officers will ensure “that people do not become alarmed.” Texas law limits carrying of concealed handguns to licensed owners but allows open carrying of rifles if not done in a “manner calculated to alarm.”
“Our goal is not to infringe on anybody's rights in anything that we do,” McManus said. “Our goal is actually to protect those rights. But when rights, perceived or otherwise, conflict with the laws, that's where police will intervene.”