By Kevin Krause
When rifle shots rang out in downtown Dallas during Thursday night's protest, some of the demonstrators were also carrying rifles.
In the ensuing chaos, one of them was labeled a "person of interest" after police released a photo of him carrying an AR-15 rifle. Others were stopped and questioned by police.
It was not immediately clear Saturday whether any of those who were legally armed delayed or hampered the police response to the shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite. Dallas police did not respond to questions.
But Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said: "It's logical to say that in a shooting situation, open carry can be detrimental to the safety of individuals."
Johnson, a former Army soldier, was killed early Friday when police used a robot to detonate a bomb near him. That was after he killed five police officers in a rampage through downtown.
It is legal in Texas to openly carry rifles and has been for decades. People with rifles have been spotted at recent public protests across the state.
Rawlings said Dallas police Chief David Brown told him that people running through the shooting scene with rifles and body armor required officers to track them down and bring them to the police department. Whether that was time that could have been spent trying to find and stop the shooter is something police will have to comment on, Rawlings said.
He said Friday that about 20 people in "ammo gear and protective equipment and rifles slung over their shoulder" participated in the Black Lives Matter rally downtown on Thursday night.
"When the shooting started, at different angles, they started running," he said. "We started catching."
Then police interviewed them.
Rawlings said open carry brings confusion to a shooting scene.
"What I would do is look for the people with guns," he said.
Max Geron, a Dallas police major, talked about the confusion during the shooting in a post on a law enforcement website.
"There was also the challenge of sorting out witnesses from potential suspects," Geron said. "Texas is an open carry state, and there were a number of armed demonstrators taking part. There was confusion on the radio about the description of the suspects and whether or not one or more was in custody."
During a speech Saturday in Poland, President Barack Obama criticized Texas' open carry law, saying it complicates the work of police. He talked about confusion and fear among officers Thursday night who tried to separate deadly threats from protesters who carried guns legally.
"If you care about the safety of police officers, then you can't set aside the gun issue and pretend that's irrelevant," Obama said.
Good guys or bad?
But C.J. Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas, said police should be able to separate the good guys from the bad guys in such a scenario because "the bad guys are the ones shooting."
"If you can't identify a threat, you shouldn't be wearing a uniform," he said.
Grisham said some in law enforcement look at law-abiding gun owners as a threat.
"It's not that difficult to tell the difference between a bad actor and a good actor," he said. "The good guys are going to obey commands, the bad guys are not."
Law enforcement organizations such as the Dallas Police Association have generally opposed the state's new open carry law regarding handguns, which went into effect this year.
Senior Sgt. Chris Dyer, president of the Dallas County Sheriff's Association, said large cities like Dallas should pass ordinances that would ban the open carry of firearms during large events like protest marches.
"Normally in a protest, you're going to have two opposing sides at least," he said, noting that tensions can result in violence.
Bringing guns into that situation, Dyer said, is "very distracting" for officers.
"Even open carry proponents will see the common sense in restricting open carry in environments like a protest," he said.
Rawlings said such a measure would make sense.
"This stuff should be common sense and not driven by ideology," he said.
But Grisham said he would not support such a law. He said his 14-year-old daughter could tell a good guy with a gun from a bad guy with a gun. And he said people should call 911 only if they see someone with a gun acting suspicious or posing a threat.
He said the problem is "gun shaming."
"People are conditioned to call the police whenever someone not wearing a badge is carrying a gun," Grisham said. "People should not just call 911 if they see someone with a gun."
Exercising a right
Mark Hughes told MSNBC that he learned he was a suspect hours after he gave his rifle to an officer Thursday night after the shooting began.
"I didn't understand how I became a suspect," he said. "I hadn't done anything wrong."
A friend called him to say he saw his photo. Hughes told MSNBC that he was "exercising my Second Amendment right."
Hughes said his older brother, Cory Hughes, told him to give his gun to an officer so he wouldn't be mistaken for the shooter.
"You give this gun to this cop" Cory Hughes, who helped organize the protest rally, told MSNBC.
Mark Hughes said he later turned himself in after learning he was wanted for questioning. He said he has since received death threats.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told MSNBC on Saturday afternoon that he rejects concerns about Texas' open carry laws.
"It's designed to protect law-abiding citizens," Paxton said. "It's working just fine."
(c)2016 The Dallas Morning News