FORT WORTH (CN) - People who want to carry guns in public sued Arlington, Texas, claiming it unconstitutionally bars them from handing out literature at busy intersections.
Open Carry Tarrant County and its coordinator, Kory Watkins, sued Arlington in Federal Court on Wednesday.
The group holds "group walks" in which members hand out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution to passersby and motorists while carrying rifles and other firearms.
The group says two of its members were cited in late March for passing out the Constitution in Arlington to people who requested them from vehicles at a stoplight. The charges were dropped, and the city amended the "Streets and Sidewalks" chapter of its ordinances.
Fines were increased to up to $500 per occurrence and the group can no longer hand out the Constitution at streets with significant traffic, the group claims.
"Statements made by the Council City [sic] members at various points near the passage of the ordinance on May 13, 2014 indicate that this ordinance was deliberately targeted to intended to preclude and make Open Carry events illegal, which occur on public sidewalks and typically near streets," the 12-page complaint states.
"At the same time that the Arlington City Council passed this ordinance, it amended another law which restricted concealed handgun license holders at public meetings."
The citations were handed out near the city's entertainment district, which features family-friendly amusement parks, shopping, AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park in Arlington - the home stadiums of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers.
Watkins claims that before the ordinance change, he was threatened with arrest by a police officer for handing the Constitution to a automobile passenger who asked for one while the car was stopped and while he was not in the street.
He claims that violation of the law was "merely a misdemeanor," not a crime punishable by jail.
"Open Carry Tarrant County conducts multiple walks a week throughout Tarrant County, particularly on weekends when they can interact with large numbers of people and exercise their First Amendment right to share the United States Constitution," the complaint states. "However, they have been told and reasonably fear citation and arrest because they have been told that they will be cited and arrested for these activities by police and City Council members. This has caused a chilling effect on members of Open Carry's willingness to participate as they had in the past, as no one wants to be harassed and threatened with time in jail for doing nothing more than handing out the United States Constitution to those who have stated that they wish to receive it."
The plaintiffs seek actual damages for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and an injunction invalidating the ordinance. They are represented by Warren Norred of Arlington.
Arlington City Attorney Jay Doegey did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Open carry advocates in Texas have drawn criticism nationwide for other places they have carried their weapons, including a Chipotle restaurant in downtown Dallas last week. Chipotle responded by asking customers to stop carrying firearms into its stores.