Armed protesters supporting a local bar in West Odessa, Texas Monday were arrested. While Governor Abbott has slowly begun to reopen businesses in Texas, bars are still ordered to remain closed.
On Friday, more businesses will be allowed to reopen according to an announcement made Tuesday by Governor Abbott. Instead of waiting until May 18 for Phase Two of the state’s task force’s recommendations to kick in, as originally planned, barbershops, salons, and nail salons will be allowed to reopen Friday, though the businesses are under orders to limit capacity, practice social distancing measures as well as using personal protection equipment (PPE) like face masks and gloves. Bars and gyms are not to reopen yet. On May 18, gyms and manufacturing plants will have the ok to reopen.
Small businesses are bearing the brunt of the economic shutdown. Big Daddy Zane’s Bar owner Gabrielle Ellison was arrested for violating Governor Abbott’s lockdown orders, along with six armed men from a group called Open Texas. The men were wearing body armor and standing outside the entrance to the bar. Apparently someone snitched and Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis’s office responded.
“This was not a protest of their second amendment rights. It was a show of force to ensure this lady could violate the governor’s order,” Griffis told reporters.
The officers arrested the owner and charged her for violating the governor’s orders and arrested the armed men for having weapons on a licensed property, Griffis said. The owner will be fined, according to the sheriff.
More than 20 people took part in the protest, with members of Open Texas providing support. The group was busy Monday, going to Ms. Ellison’s bar after a rally at Anytime Fitness in Odessa earlier in the day. The group travels around the state with their weapons offering help to businesses deemed non-essential by the governor including a nail salon in Dallas.
Members of the protest coming from a rally at Anytime Fitness in Odessa showed up to Big Daddy Zane’s Bar at around 5 p.m. Monday with loaded “AR-15 type weapons” which they said they did not intend to use, but only had because it represented their Second Amendment rights. They said they carried in defense of the bar’s First Amendment rights.
Open Texas member and online personal trainer Philip Archibald, 29, was not arrested and said members of the group helped defend a hair salon owner opening in Dallas and an Ice House owner in Houston.
So, no, the arrests weren’t about the guns. This is Texas, a very gun-friendly state. The arrests were about the violation of the governor’s order and the support offered at the front entrance by the armed men. In a Facebook live post, Mr. Archibald said “When we help businesses open up, support them. We get them some revenue and we get them back on their feet. We are only going to reopen the country by empowering people and helping them stand up and getting them back off their knees.” He went on to say his group is helping businesses because of dire financial situations. The group is trying to look out for business owners so that more government help isn’t needed and they aren’t dependent on government assistance.
There seems to be some confusion on the part of Ms. Ellison over the legality of carrying a weapon on private property.
Law enforcement drove behind the bar where owner Gabrielle Ellison, 47, had told armed protestors to stand because it was not considered her business property, but was her private property behind the bar.
Multiple ECSO Deputies and Texas Troopers drove their vehicles including an Armored Personnel Carrier behind the bar and pointed guns at the armed protesters telling them to put their hand’s up.
Those who were carrying guns were handcuffed and transported to the Ector County Detention Center. ECSO Sheriff Mike Griffis said in a phone interview that six people were arrested for felony unlawfully carrying a weapon on a licensed premise, Ellison was arrested for violation of the Governor’s order and one bystander was arrested for interfering with duties of a peace officer. Eight people were arrested in total.
Archibald said that those arrested were done so illegally because protesters were arrested on private property.
Ellison said that she asked those armed protesters to stay on the private property because of a 51 percent law, which details that people cannot carry guns into Texas bars. She said that she thought that only applied to inside the bar.
Sheriff Griffis said he was advised by Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) that “any part of that property that is owned or adjacent to, connected to that bar is the premises and TABC is going to be fully involved in this deal also.”
Ellison’s business is struggling and her employees are suffering since the bar closed down. She says she has been paying her employees without the help of the paycheck protection program. She notes that the rights of business owners have been stripped away in the face of the coronavirus pandemic including “the right to survive”. She doesn’t approve of the way businesses are reopening. No doubt she doesn’t appreciate the fact that her bar has to remain closed while restaurants are reopening for dine-in customers. She also mentioned that game rooms around her bar are allowed to open while her bar is closed.
There was also a mistake made by Odessa Mayor David Turner, Ellison said. She asked him if she could open and he said yes, with 25% occupancy. Then he came back to her and said that he was mistaken and she couldn’t open it. She asked the Open Texas group for help. The “armed vigilantes” were a step too far for the sheriff.
“I understand their side of it,” he said in a phone interview, “Defying the Governor’s orders is one thing, but when you bring a bunch of armed vigilantes in from other parts of the state for a show of force, I just got a problem with that,” he said.
You can’t blame a small business owner for trying to stay afloat and continue to pay her employees. They are between a rock and a hard place, trying to survive while also following the governor’s orders. She tried to get official guidance by asking the mayor about opening and even he was confused. At first, I thought it would be best for bars to remain closed for the time being, even though restaurants were given the go-ahead to reopen, using the 25% occupancy guideline. Maybe bars can safely reopen with only 25% occupancy, too. And will customers who get tipsy abide by the social distancing rules? I don’t know. That’s the problem, though. No one seems to know what the answers are right now. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants at this point.