As lockdowns began across America, Texans did what Texans do best. They emptied the shelves of every firearm store in the state.
Urban progressives and the pundit class were quick to scorn. But those firearms, and the millions more owned by the people of Texas, are now proving useful. Texans want to reopen their economy and are turning to amateur armed guards in order to do so.
A recent piece in the New York Times focused on a tattoo shop in Shepherd, Texas, about an hour outside of Houston. When Jamie Williams’s business was passed over for the first wave of permitted re-openings by Gov. Greg Abbott, she called one of what can only be described as Texas’s traveling economic militias. One of these groups, who have been criss-crossing Texas engaging in armed stand-offs with police and local officials, set up an armed perimeter while Jamie opened her shop. Within a few hours, patrons arrived.
Confrontations between law enforcement and businesses such as Jamie’s and now folk-hero Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther highlight a fundamental problem faced by government officials both right and left. On the right, governors such as Greg Abbott have to continue publicly championing economic freedom and small government while mollifying the moderate suburban swing voters in their state who get their news from left-leaning news outlets. On the left, petty authoritarians have to balance their desire to impose maximal lockdowns in devotion to scientism, while still opposing criminal incarceration of any sort.
In 2018 when Sen. Ted Cruz eked out a victory against the steadfast cultural appropriator and wine-mom heartthrob Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, most members of the national conservative media cheered briefly and moved on. An unseen consequence of the Betomania, however, was the total wipeout of Republicans or right-leaning figures in Texas local government. One casualty was the County Judgeship of Harris County, which contains and more importantly governs the City of Houston and over four million Texans.
The moderate Republican who used to hold that seat, Ed Emmett, was replaced by a 29-year-old named Lina Hidalgo, who makes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez look like a mature and sensible stateswoman. Her reign, as well as the reign of local executives in Texas’s largest cities, has led to showdowns such as the one that catapulted Dallas’s Shelley Luther to fame last week. Luther’s case eventually ended with Abbott defending her against the enforcement of his own guidance as Governor.
But Shelley was by no means even the first hair salon owner to defy what she saw as untenable restrictions on her ability to make a living. The reason haircuts will be legal at all in Texas this week was actually the doing of two state representatives who placed the Governor in a quandary, either open faster or risk undermining his authority. State Representatives Briscoe Cain and Steve Toth made news on May 5 for getting ‘illegal haircuts’ at Tune Up: The Manly Salon in Houston. Cain, who achieved national renown for telling Beto that ‘My AR is ready for you’ after the then presidential candidate called for the seizure of legally owned AR-15, did so as part of a broader campaign to have Gov. Abbott rescind his business shutdown orders. The challenge worked: that very same day, Abbott announced that restrictions on hair salons would be lifted much earlier than expected, vindicating the legislators’ civil disobedience.
In many ways, the armed guards outside of an assortment of bars, tattoo shops, and other verboten businesses have the same goal. C.J. Grisham, of Open Carry Texas, one of the militias that has been demonstrating outside businesses, said as much to The Spectator:
‘Government will only restrict our freedoms as long as they think they can get away with it. We make our stand outside of small businesses to show them that enough is enough, we will not comply.’
Grisham and his group have advocated for stronger Second Amendment protections in Texas for several years now. They see their fight for gun rights as intertwined with their fight to protect the liberty of Texans to engage in commerce.
When Grisham and dozens more activists return to Odessa in a few weeks on June 6, they have said they will not be arrested. According to Grisham, either the business they are guarding will be allowed to peacefully operate, or they will ‘respond to violence from the government with violence’ in order to protect their constitutional liberties.
In doing so, they’ll present local officials and Gov. Abbott with the same choice the legislators did. Either exercise the authority you claim you have and face the consequences, or back off and let Texans live.
So far, none of the altercations has so far resulted in violence, even as several militia-men were arrested at an event in Odessa. But I can’t predict what will happen. Perhaps the next phase of 2020 will be OK Corral style shootouts in front of tiny nail salons as armed militia-men tattooed with the Preamble of the Constitution take shots at distressed local cops following orders. But it’s vastly more likely that Texas’ brand of folk-libertarianism will prevail. After all, unlike most of the Spectator’s readers, I can already enjoy a dine-in margarita in the Lone Star State’s capitol. The same cannot be said for either Cuomo’s fiefdom or the constitutional aberration on the Potomac.