Open Carry Demonstration Attracts Topless Protester, Confuses SXSW-Goers

Members of Open Carry Texas took to the streets of downtown Austin Friday as Barack Obama appeared at the Long Center for a SXSW interview.
Members of Open Carry Texas took to the streets of downtown Austin Friday as Barack Obama appeared at the Long Center for a SXSW interview.  Lorenzo Holt

A small group of handgun-toting Open Carry Texas members marched through downtown Austin Friday, trailed by a topless woman and a woman with a dildo strapped to her back. The gun activists left the Capitol at noon and marched down Congress Avenue toward the Austin Convention Center, 11 blocks away.

“Most people wouldn’t have noticed we had guns if there wasn’t a naked lady screaming at us,” said CJ Grisham, organizer of the walk and president of Open Carry Texas. “We’re trying to educate people on the new laws and show that open carry isn’t scary.”

As the Open Carry Texas members handed out educational brochures on gun laws, the topless woman, who said she refused to give her name for fear of being shot, hurled insults at them and shouted warnings to passersby. She was wearing a sign that said “Open carry tits, not guns.”

“I just noticed that it’s very crowded and there’s a lady with no shirt,” said Donna Abate, a visitor from New York, in town for SXSW. She hadn’t noticed the handguns.

“Oh I see it!” Abate said after the weapons had been indicated to her. “I find it frightening. I’m from the Bronx, so I see a lot of things but that’s just a little scary. What if he were to have a confrontation with someone and yank out his gun?”

Grisham, who served 20 years in the army and saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, wore a camouflaged hat, a backpack and two guns on his hips. He said that members of Open Carry Texas would be present every day of SXSW in an informal capacity to educate the public while enjoying the events.

“The more you educate the better,” said Nick Gillette, a visitor from Washington, D.C., who had received one of Grisham’s brochures. “I’m a military brat so I was brought up around guns and gun safety, but I don’t know if I’m pro or against open carry. I can see why it’d be scary for people, but I’m familiar with the culture.”

The arrival of Jessica Jin, the recent University of Texas graduate who started the Campus (Dildo) Carry event, prompted a spontaneous debate on the merits of open and campus carry laws.

Wearing a giant black dildo on her back and holding a collection of works by Thomas Paine, Jin and Grisham engaged in polite but animated conversation.

“Don’t you think that open carry and campus carry are just as imperfect as not carrying?” Jin asked Grisham. “Open carry is not worth professors’ feeling scared and like they want to leave. We’re losing talent, and people have withdrawn their applications.”

Grisham responded that the new laws would have a minimal impact on people’s lives and that only a small number of college students are eligible for concealed handgun licenses (CHL).

“If a professor wants to let his ideological stance on self-defense make him leave Texas, so be it,” Grisham replied. “I don’t think that campus carry is going to be an issue. This isn’t something new; Texas isn’t inventing open carry.”

After the short conversation, Grisham returned to handing out brochures while the few other Open Carry Texas members talked amongst themselves.

“I was expecting to be doing cartwheels with dildos on my back, but it’s nice to have a civil conversation once in a while too,” Jin said.

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Lorenzo Holt is an Italian-American philosophy graduate who plans to spend his life writing and traveling before retiring to a vineyard in the Italian countryside. For now, he's an intern at the Observer.

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