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Open Carry Protests: Our Internal Dilemma

Open Carry Protests: Our Internal Dilemma
AP Photo

AP Photo

It's always dangerous to start writing about an issue by saying, "I feel strongly both ways," but that's how it is with the current controversy swirling around Open Carry Texas. OCT members have stirred up a hornet's nest by appearing at various fast-food eateries carrying rifles, with predictable outrage being generated in all the predictable places.

NRA waded in with a critique of the tactic as crossing "the line between enthusiasm and downright foolishness" and "downright weird." It then waded right back out again in the face of criticism from OCT and other Texas activists. That Texas two-step enabled the media to bash NRA twice: once for taking so long to be reasonable, and then again for backing away from reasonableness.

OCT president C.J. Grisham said the rifle-toting protests were intended to point out that open carry of rifles is authorized in Texas, while carrying pistols openly is not. That point proved too subtle by half, and OCT had already decided to quit appearing with long guns before the criticism from NRA.

Now a lot of OCT members are unhappy and cutting up their NRA cards, to the delight of the national media and anti-gunners everywhere. Discord inside the gun movement is something the antis pray for every day but rarely get to enjoy. Discord rarely lasts, and it never impairs the struggle for long, but you can't blame them for hoping.

It's very tempting to dismiss the open carriers as dangerous to the cause, because they often, as in the case of Starbucks, wind up forcing corporate leadership off the fence and into the other side's backyard. The publicity almost always looks bad, with lots of middle-aged white guys toting big, scary rifles where families and kids go. It's easy to say you support open carry in principle, while saying at the same time it should be done rarely, if ever.

The open-carry crowd can make the very valid contrary point that a whole variety of rights have been won through public actions that were regarded as outrageous at the time. The Alabama State Police certainly thought it was outrageous for protesters to try to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. They expressed that opinion with tear gas and nightsticks, leading directly to civil rights legislation that marked the end of Jim Crow.

The sight of two men holding hands or two women kissing was outrageous in the 1980s, but it you're outraged by it today, you better hold off watching the Tony Awards.

The Palestine Liberation Organization committed a long series of outrages like the simultaneous hijacking of three airliners in 1970, endless bombings and kidnappings, but it is no longer considered outrageous; right-thinking college professors these days loudly advocate boycotting Israel as an "apartheid state."

So an outrage, repeated often enough, can eventually become normal. What was an outrage becomes a right. Open-carry advocates think being loud and proud with our guns will ultimately make people less threatened and intimidated by them and make them learn to accept guns and their owners as a perfectly normal part of life.

I'll admit that seeing a crowd of open carriers crowding around a Sonic with AKs makes my teeth hurt. But at the same time, they're using a strategy that has proven to get results for other out-groups. We all agree on the goal: what are the right tactics? I feel strongly both ways.

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