For a short time there, it looked as if the National Rifle Association had gotten it right for a change.
Alas, it was not to be.
The NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, posted an article on its website May 28 critical of aggressive, in-your-face demonstrations at public venues by open-carry gun advocates. It argued that such “weird” and “scary” actions could alienate people who “might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms.” They run the risk of “turning an undecided voter into an anti-gun voter.”
The article was so surprising because it made so much sense. It targeted open-carry groups in Texas, a state that allows people to openly carry long guns – including semiautomatic rifles – but not handguns. According to The New York Times, Open Carry Texas encourages gun owners to walk around their communities openly displaying their firearms to protest the handgun restriction.
Groups have appeared at fast-food restaurants and stores in Texas, prominently displaying their weapons, including military-style rifles. They so unnerved customers that Sonic Drive-In and Chili’s have now joined Starbucks, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jack in the Box in asking people not to bring guns to their restaurants.
After the article was published, holy heck broke out among the more more militant gun-rights folks. The NRA – which was in the unusual position of feeling the heat instead of applying it – quickly disavowed the article as being one person’s misguided opinion.
The NRA’s about-face was a mistake. The original stand was correct: The average person isn’t likely to react well to encountering someone – much less a group of people – carrying weapons in places where that’s not expected, such as in restaurants and stores.
In Washington state, it is legal to openly carry handguns and long guns in most places without a concealed weapons permit unless the property owner prohibits it. (Among those that either ban firearms or do not allow open carry are Whole Foods, Chuck E. Cheese’s and Costco.)
But with mass shootings all too fresh in people’s minds, the first thought upon seeing someone entering a store or restaurant with a semiautomatic rifle or shotgun probably won’t be, “Nice to see someone exercising their Second Amendment rights.” It’s more likely to be, “Run! Hide!”
Most gun owners support reasonable restrictions on firearms and are put off by the absolutists. Those who flaunt guns anywhere and everywhere are not going to win converts to their cause.