Temple, Texas, is a city of 70,000 near Fort Hood, a major U.S. Army base, in the heart of a state not famous for liberal gun-control politics. Temple has nevertheless become the scene of an unusual challenge to the right to own and bear arms.
A Temple police officer stopped Army Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham, a decorated veteran of the Iraq war, when he went out on a 10-mile hike with his 15-year-old son, Christopher. The boy, working on a merit badge for hiking, needed to qualify as an Eagle Scout. Officer Steve Ermis arrested the sergeant, cuffed him, ordered him into a squad car, and charged him with the crime of "rudely displaying" a legal AR-15 rifle. His rifle and a .45 caliber pistol were seized. The sarge said he carried the weapons because he sometimes accosted feral hogs and cougars in the wild Texas woods. Christopher recorded the incident with his video camera, and it has captured 3 million views on YouTube.
When Sgt. Grisham asked why he was arrested, Officer Ermis told him, "In this day and age, people are alarmed when they see someone with what you have." Texans frightened by the sight of a gun? Who would have guessed it?
Open carry is legal in Texas, and so is concealed carry, and Sgt. Grisham has a valid permit. He was initially charged with "resisting arrest," but the video shows no resistance beyond his repeated verbal requests to Officer Ermis and his supervisor to tell him why he was being detained. After a brief stint in jail, Sgt. Grisham is waiting for a pretrial hearing on May 29 on the misdemeanor charge of "interfering with a peace officer while performing a duty."
The potential $2,000 fine and six months in jail would end his distinguished military career. Despite having the constitutional right not to answer police questions, the two Grishams say a Temple officer, driving the boy home, refused to let Christopher leave the patrol car unless he answered their questions.
Petty town politics may be at play. Sgt. Grisham was stopped five days after he asked the Temple City Council "to declare that citizen rights to keep and bear arms will not be infringed upon," according to the Temple Daily Telegram. Sgt. Grisham once wrote a popular Internet blog, "A Soldier's Perspective," that annoyed town fathers with criticisms of a school-uniform program implemented without parental consultation. School officials complained to his superiors at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, who then, according to Sgt. Grisham, pressured him to take down the blog.
Sgt. Grisham has an exemplary record. The Army Times reported that he received the Bronze Star with Valor for running through gunfire, armed with only a 9 mm pistol and a hand grenade, to fight off an Iraqi squad. His friends and admirers have pledged $40,000 so far to help him with lawyers and other costs to pay for his defense, and the defense of the First and Fourth Amendments. Americans with or without enviable records such as that of Sgt. Grisham shouldn't be harassed by the police, zealous, misinformed or otherwise.
The mayor of Temple, William A. Jones III, seems eager now to head off a lawsuit. "It got out of hand," he tells The Washington Times of the incident. "It just didn't need to go where it went." Indeed, it did not. The county attorney could demonstrate similar sentiments by dropping the charges with an apology and a little tutoring session for the Temple cops.
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