As enthusiastic gun owners, we sometimes do things that seem like solid ideas from our perspective, but serve only to fuel detractors and encourage prohibitionists. When Open Carry Texas (OCT) and other open carry protesters started making headlines last month, I could not help but think that their actions would embolden anti-gun activists and would fail to achieve the intended effect on the public as a whole. While OCT’s heart is in the right place and it is ridiculous that open carry of handguns is forbidden in the Lone Star State, our friends in Texas and elsewhere need to be smarter about how they push for change.
Widely criticized for carrying an assortment of long guns at public gatherings, OCT chose to deflect criticism levied at them by blaming a number of other groups for misrepresenting their message and for failing to work towards legalizing handgun open carry in the state. One such group was the NRA who, according to OCT, “was not invited to testify” before the state legislature during previous open carry hearings. OCT leadership concluded that the NRA’s absence was evidence that 1) The NRA did not support the open carry cause, 2) OCT was more respected by the Texas legislature than the NRA, and 3) OCT had made political headway, manifest by their invitation to testify. While I cannot speak for the NRA’s involvement in the open carry movement, I am positive that they are not working against OCT on this front. Claims 2 and 3 however, are patently false. It is widely known that the NRA is among the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, backed by approximately 5 million politically active members. That OCT could assume a level of respect above the NRA is absurdity at its finest, even if they consider themselves the definitive experts on open carry in Texas.
Readers may be wondering at this point how, if I claim to support the legalization of open carry, I can be so harsh on OCT. In large part, such criticism is rooted in the fact that open carry of long arms should have been the group’s last resort. While protesting on the lawn of the state house, rifle in tow, might make a strong statement, it does not take a public relations expert to figure out that slinging up your bastardized SKS and heading to the local Chipotle or Sonic might be a bad idea. While in your face politics might work for some groups, it clearly has not helped the firearms community in this case. Furthermore, open carry of a long gun is most certainly more hazardous than carrying a handgun. I cannot count the number of times I have heard, “don’t touch your gun unless you are ready to use it” in reference to carrying a properly holstered (open or concealed) pistol. In stark contrast, OCT and the like are often photographed pawing all over their low binned boomsticks all while dressed like a Goodwill donation bag. No amount of reassurance (that the guns are empty) from the group’s leadership is going to protect the rest of us firearm enthusiasts from the anti-gun barrage when a moron has a negligent discharge in a public place.
So what can OCT and other groups do to push for open carry? The answer is relatively simple: Call, write, and generally annoy your representatives. Prior to the controversy that has surrounded OCT’s demonstrations, the political capital required to legalize open carry should have been relatively low. In what is still a Republican-controlled state like Texas, legalization should have been manageable. Should these efforts have failed, OCT could have organized the carry of empty holsters as a sign of solidarity and support for the cause. In some cases, they may have already held such displays, but the jump to long arm carry was entirely premature.
Though they have since retracted the statement, the NRA was right to be critical of OCT’s actions. In fact, it was disappointing that Chris Cox backed away from the position shortly after the organization called OCT “unneighborly” as the description hit the nail squarely on its head. That said, it is fair to say that the vast majority of firearms enthusiasts support OCT’s desired goal. As I remarked in the opening, the majority of gun owners are a passionate group of people who happen to be well organized and politically active. Sometimes though, we fail to recognize that others may not share our enthusiasm. In cases like we have seen in Texas, enthusiasts have alienated potential supporters and have done so at their own peril. Hopefully, we as a community can learn from their example as we move gun rights in the proper direction.