New Arlington sidewalk rule may not hold

Open Carry Tarrant County, a gun rights group trying to increase public comfort with the open display of arms, has rightfully earned much of the negative attention it has received over the past year.

But it also rightfully earned a sizable legal victory over Arlington in July by convincing a federal court that the city’s ordinance preventing members of the group from distributing literature at major intersections violated the First Amendment.

“While Arlington need not wait for accidents to justify safety regulations,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote this summer, the city has “less restrictive means of achieving its stated goals.”

In what was clearly a good-faith effort by the city to find such less restrictive means, it modified the ordinance, and the City Council will vote on the amendment at its Oct. 28 meeting.

The new proposed rule sailed through a preliminary vote on Oct. 14, 7-1, and would allow pedestrians to distribute literature or collect money from the sidewalk or an unpaved shoulder, but still forbids them to do so from the street or the median. Violators would be subject to a penalty of up to $500.

However, Warren Norred, an attorney representing Open Carry, said in a blog entry that the modified rule still appears to allow state employees — like firefighters or police officers collecting for charity — to do whatever they want.

That mismatch makes a valid argument. The ordinance must be applied evenly to all individuals, regardless of affiliation.

Norred added that because the law only allows individuals to hand materials to people in vehicles they can reach without leaving the curb and fails to account for roads with bike lanes, the rule is still “dancing just over the line of the Constitution.”

Members of Open Carry are prepared to return to court if the amendment passes. And if it does, the city will need to put up a better defense of its regulation than it did this summer.

Public safety is a legitimate concern. A report from the Arlington city staff says that from Jan. 1 through July 31 of this year, there were 64 crashes involving pedestrians in Arlington.

Protecting free speech is also a serious issue, and it might require Arlington to return to the drawing board again.

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