The Katy Trail in Dallas is a 3.5-mile path that extends from the tip of Southern Methodist University to the American Airlines Center at the edge of downtown. The trail passes through the Oak Lawn, Uptown, and Turtle Creek neighborhoods, a trio of pretty decent to affluent places to lay your head. As with many centralized hike-and-bike trails in big cities, the Katy Trail attracts a certain kind of yuppified fitness buff, as well as a smattering of families and others looking to enjoy a bit of nature. It’s a quaint scene to be sure, a setting worthy of a modern-day Norman Rockwell painting (or at least a few Instagram pics). Yet. The Katy Trail is not without its fair share of drama.
The trail has seen an uptick in crime recently, specifically over a span of four days between October 29 and November 1, when five armed robberies occurred on the path. Each of the victims were mugged at gunpoint, with the suspects taking phones, wallets, and money. Two suspects in the robberies—21-year-old Daray Robinson and 17-year-old Jamaciay Smith—have since been arrested and charged with one count of aggravated robbery in connection to the muggings.
The small swell of crime was an unfortunate series, and in response to the robberies, Come and Take It Texas, a guns rights group, decided to organize a rally on the trail. Members of the group dressed in workout gear and strapped on guns (as is their right), and walked along the trail. The outing has been described as a “Second Amendment” type of rally, one meant to promote the message that folks don’t want to be victims, which, yes, is a thing nobody aspires to become.
Friends of the Katy Trail, a non-profit organization that maintains the trail, urged its Facebook followers not to walk the trail during the protest, and as WFAA reported, a jogger named Loren Bassett stated that she doesn’t think the problem is going to be resolved by everyone carrying a gun on the Katy Trail. But alas, it happened anyway.
Texas is no stranger to rallies where people flex their right to open carry, but the timing of this particular event prompted a man who the Dallas Morning News identifies as the group’s public relations director, Matthew Short, to invoke last week’s Paris attacks. “We do not want victims of those gun free zones in Dallas. Dallas is not going to be Paris,” he says in the video above. “We are not going to have an environment where people can go and murder 150 plus people because the public is not armed. We want the criminals to know the public is armed and going to take care of themselves.”
Comparing a calculated terrorist attack to armed robberies is an impressive feat of mental gymnastics (go for the gold in Rio), but Short also went even further by saying that Houston and Dallas have less crime because of a “gun culture.” Although it is true that Dallas is currently experiencing record lows in its murder rate (in 2014 the city saw its lowest murder rate since 1930) and overall crime, there is no clear indication that it’s because of a gun culture. A study conducted at Texas A&M concluded that there is no link between concealed handguns and crime rates. In a statement, the study’s lead, Charles D. Phillips, an emeritus regents professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, said, “the idea that concealed handguns lead to less crime is at the center of much firearms legislation, but the science behind that conclusion has been murky.”
The group was clearly not to be dissuaded by murky conclusions—nor would it be stopped by the Dallas Police Department’s suggestion that it’s not a very good idea to go around carrying guns on a path people exercise on because of a recent scare. One afternoon back in October, DPD began receiving calls about two armed men, one wearing a bulletproof vest, walking along the Katy Trail. This freaked some Dallasites out, but the rifles the men were carrying ended up being fake or replicas. Dallas police spokesperson, Sgt. Warren Mitchell, responded to the incident saying that in a day and age when public shootings happen so often, carrying a rifle on the trail may not be illegal, but it’s “not good a practice, especially in an area of recreation, where children could be.” However, it’s worth noting that the two men did in fact break the law as carrying fake, toy, or replica firearms is illegal in Dallas. (In the above video, a man at the Come and Take It Texas rally is heard saying that he’s carrying a toy gun in an act of “civil disobedience.”)
Whether you agree or disagree with the tactics of Come and Take It Texas, it is fair to be alarmed and vigilant about safety on the trail, as it periodically sees an influx of violence. There were the robberies from a few weeks ago, but also, in 2012, there were 11 reported robberies on the trail. In 2009, a woman was beaten, robbed and kicked on the trail while the two minors who committed the gross act laughed. On another trail in Dallas, a man was randomly attacked and hacked to death with a machete just last month.
Will armed citizens help prevent these crimes? Only time will tell, but we do know that coyotes better watch out.