When "open carry" groups take their message to parking lots and sidewalks, they say they're fighting for gun rights.
What they didn't expect is to have to defend themselves from "friendly fire."
"You grow up to revere the NRA, almost like it’s a grandfather," said Tov Henderson of Open Carry Texas. "They’re the vanguards of the the Second Amendment."
All it took to set off this firestorm was a web article by the NRA-ILA, the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association. A staffer described, in a May 30 opinion piece, the walks with rifles out in the open as “downright scary” and "downright weird."
The writer also called it “counterproductive for the gun owning community.”
These descriptions angered open carry groups, or — as the writer referred to them — “the attention-hungry few.”
"When I first heard it, I was in shock. It didn’t seem consistent with the National Rifle Association," Henderson said.
The NRA responded Tuesday saying it doesn’t feel that way, stressing that it "unequivocally" supports the "open carry" and "concealed carry" movements.
"The truth is, an alert went out that referred to this type of behavior as 'weird' or somehow not normal, and that was a mistake. It shouldn’t have happened," said Chris Cox, who is in charge of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. "I had a discussion with the staffer who wrote that piece and expressed his personal opinion. And our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners; our job is to effectuate policy changes that expand and protect our members' right of self-defense."
"Getting the clarification from them that it wasn’t an official stance and that it was just a low-level employee... it makes sense," Henderson said.
Henderson added that he got many e-mails and phone calls on Tuesday, some of them from gun owners threatening to cut up their NRA membership cards.
But he said the NRA’s clarification was refreshing.
Henderson admits he can’t vouch for every method and campaign used by every gun rights group, but he does hope their message is unified.
"Everything you do when you open carry, you make yourself a representative of the entire movement," he said.
Here at NRA, we are big fans of responsible behavior … legal mandates, not so much. We think the Founders of this country were right to trust its people with the freedom to make their own choices. We also think they were wise to build checks into our constitutional system so that one view could not easily dominate the others and so that officials could be held accountable for their decisions.
As gun owners, whether or not our decisions are dictated by the law, we are still accountable for them. And we owe it to each other to act as checks on bad behavior before the legal system steps in and does it for us. If we exercise poor judgment, our decisions will have consequences. These consequences could be simple and transitory, such as watching a trophy buck bound away into the woods after a missed shot from an improperly sighted rifle. They could also be lasting and consequential, such as turning an undecided voter into an antigun voter because of causing that person fear or offense. In ways small and large, we are all in this together, and we all have a role to play in preserving our cherished freedoms for ourselves and future generations.
Let's take just a couple of examples. In each case, just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done. In each case, gun owners would do well to consider the effect their behavior has on others, whether fellow gun owners or not.
One issue that has been in the news recently is so-called "smart" guns. The theory here is to create a gun that can only be fired by an authorized user, typically through the use of a transmitter/receiver system or through a biometric interface. In principle, the idea would seem to have merit, at least in some circumstances. Certainly, the NRA doesn't oppose anything that would make firearms more appealing or accessible to a larger segment of the American public. Not everybody has guns for the same reason, and we believe people are perfectly capable of determining for themselves what best suits their needs.
In doing so, however, they should first arm themselves with the facts. As we and others have reported previously (here, here, and here, for example) "smart" gun technology has darker implications as well.
Moreover, the issue of "smart" guns is clouded by an ill-conceived New Jersey law passed in 2002. As stated in its legislative declaration, this law requires "that, within a specified period of time after the date on which … personalized handguns are deemed to be available for retail sales purposes, no other type of handgun shall be sold or offered for sale by any registered or licensed firearms dealer in this State."
The New Jersey law further directs the state attorney general to file reports with the governor and the legislature on the availability of personalized handguns for retail sales purposes and to update such reports every six months "until such time as the Attorney General shall deem that personalized handguns are available for retail sales purposes and so report to the Governor and the Legislature." Worse, the triggering finding must be deemed to have been reached, "if at least one manufacturer has delivered at least one production model of a personalized handgun to a registered or licensed wholesale or retail dealer in New Jersey or any other state."
In other words, once such a handgun is being produced in multiple copies for retail sale, and once even a single such unit is delivered to a licensed distributor or retailer anywhere in the country, the clock starts ticking. Eventually, New Jersey gun dealers would be forbidden from selling any handgun (apart from a narrowly-defined class of "antiques") that is not also a "personalized handgun." Needless to say, this would vastly reduce the stock of handguns available to New Jersey residents. One manufacturer, in fact, could completely corner the retail market for handguns in New Jersey merely by producing one "personalized" model for sale. New Jersey residents could conceivably be limited to one model of new handgun and one model alone.
In fact, the Brady Campaign for Gun Violence, among other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit recently seeking to force the state attorney general to find the law has already been triggered. According to the plaintiffs, only one report (in 2003) has been filed under the law in the nearly 12 years since it passed, and they are now seeking to force the attorney general to comply with his reporting duties.
The timing of the suit, however, is far from coincidental. An article announcing the lawsuit also notes that a German company, Armatix, is manufacturing its version of a personalized firearm and has shipped that gun to at least two dealers in the United States, one in California and one in Maryland. Both dealers, however, later decided not to sell the gun, citing pressure from persons who were angry over the ramifications such sales might have under the New Jersey law.
The lesson with "smart" guns is that you can't always evaluate the long-term consequences of a new "innovation" in firearm technology or regulation at a glance. Often, the issues are more complex than they first appear. That is why NRA is committed to providing timely, comprehensive, and authoritative analysis on the issues that affect your rights and your enjoyment of firearms, now and in the future. Before you embrace whatever schemes are being pushed by the self-described "gun safety advocates" who've never met a ban or restriction on guns or ammunition they didn't like, acquaint yourself with the facts. Two excellent ways to do so are through the pages of our magazines and via our free, online Grassroots Alerts.
The second example comes to us from the Lone Star State, which is second to none for its robust gun culture. We applaud Texans for that, but a small number have recently crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness.
Now we love AR-15s and AKs as much as anybody, and we know that these sorts of semiautomatic carbines are among the most popular, fastest selling firearms in America today. Texas, independent-minded and liberty-loving place that it is, doesn't ban the carrying of loaded long guns in public, nor does it require a permit for this activity. Yet some so-called firearm advocates seem determined to change this.
Recently, demonstrators have been showing up in various public places, including coffee shops and fast food restaurants, openly toting a variety of tactical long guns. Unlicensed open carry of handguns is legal in about half the U.S. states, and it is relatively common and uncontroversial in some places.
Yet while unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms.
Let's not mince words, not only is it rare, it's downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one's cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.
As a result of these hijinx, two popular fast food outlets have recently requested patrons to keep guns off the premises (more information can be found here and here). In other words, the freedom and goodwill these businesses had previously extended to gun owners has been curtailed because of the actions of an attention-hungry few who thought only of themselves and not of those who might be affected by their behavior. To state the obvious, that's counterproductive for the gun owning community.
More to the point, it's just not neighborly, which is out of character for the big-hearted residents of Texas. Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That's not the Texas way. And that's certainly not the NRA way.
In summary, NRA certainly does not support bans on personalized guns or on carrying firearms in public, including in restaurants. We think people are intelligent enough to resolve these issues in a reasonable way for themselves. But when people act without thinking, or without consideration for others – especially when it comes to firearms – they set the stage for further restrictions on our rights. Firearm owners face enough challenges these days; we don't need to be victims of friendly fire.