When shots rang out at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas on Thursday, the sniper wasn’t the only person openly carrying a deadly weapon.
Twenty to 30 marchers had AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles slung across their shoulders, as The New York Times reported. They were exercising their decades-old legal right in Texas to openly carry firearms in public.
In the chaos following the sniper attack, which killed five police officers patrolling the march, the presence of numerous armed individuals running through the streets made it difficult for officers to distinguish between suspects and marchers, feeding the misconception that there were multiple assailants at large.
Police initially named Mark Hughes, a peaceful protestor outfitted in camouflage attire and equipped with an AR-15 rifle, as a "person of interest." Other open-carry activists were stopped and questioned by the police before police narrowed in on the lone shooter, Micah Johnson.
"For our officers, they were suspects. And I support that belief. Someone is shooting at you from a perched position, and people are running with AR-15s and camo gear and gas masks and bulletproof vests. They are suspects until we eliminate that," Dallas Police Chief David Brown told CNN.
Texas has recently been expanding open carry rights, and last year the state legislature legalized the open carry of handguns, already common throughout the United States. Now, however, some Texas officials are calling for new restrictions.
Senior Sgt. Chris Dyer, president of the Dallas County Sheriff's Association, told The Dallas Morning News he believed Texas cities like Dallas should ban the open carry of firearms during protest marches, where tensions tend to run high.
"Even open carry proponents will see the common sense in restricting open carry in environments like a protest," Sergeant Dyer said.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a Democrat and a shotgun owner, also called for tightening the state's gun laws to restrict carrying rifles and shotguns to public events, including sports games and protests. "This stuff should be common sense and not driven by ideology," Mr. Rawlings said.
In a Sunday interview with The New York Times, the mayor stressed that he was not anti-gun, but that he believed open-carry culture had put public safety at risk.
“This is the first time – but a very concrete time – that I think a law can hurt citizens, police and not protect them,” Rawlings told the Times. “I think it’s amazing when you think that there is a gunfight going on, and you are supposed to be able to sort who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.”
C. J. Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas, told The Dallas Morning News that “the bad guys are the ones shooting,” so it shouldn’t be hard to separate the good guys from the bad guys.
Mr. Grisham told the Associated Press that open-carry activists can prevent alarm by keeping their gun slung on their back with their muzzle pointing down and not touching it to make it clear they don't intend to be confrontational.