The National Rifle Association has reached its limit. The gun owners’ lobby disapproves of heading out for a sandwich armed with a military-style semiautomatic rifle slung over one’s shoulder. Moreover, the NRA acknowledges that it’s scary and “downright weird” when a bunch of people descend on a public venue armed like commandos.
Wait, what? Are the planets spinning in reverse? Four blunt points to sort things out:
1. Yes, the NRA really said that. The group’s main blog declared in an anonymous post dated May 30:
“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.”
In other words, NRA leaders think some within their ranks risk ruining the image of Second Amendment enthusiasts. It’s worth reading more. The blog post continues:
“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.”
2. This conciliation has been met with hostility from some of the, ah, weirdos. Open Carry Texas, for example, a group dedicated to educating “all Texans about their right to openly carry rifles and shotguns in a safe manner,” lashed out at the NRA on Twitter (TWTR), opining:
— Open Carry Texas (@OpenCarryTexas) June 1, 2014
This is an excellent example of a point I’ve made elsewhere: that the NRA’s increasing extremism over the past decade has been driven, in part, by fear of getting outflanked by even more extreme gun-rights groups to its right. The NRA doesn’t have a monopoly on a grass-roots libertarian movement that’s latched onto guns as a symbol of defiance against all things cosmopolitan, non-Caucasian, and smacking of federal government authority.
3. Amazingly, incidents of flamboyant open carry haven’t led to mayhem. Yet. I’ve argued against the obnoxious habit of gun-rights activists showing up in numbers at Starbucks (SBUX) and other retail sites. Now the NRA belatedly agrees, albeit only in connection with rifles as opposed to handguns. There’s no reason that people who feel the need to carry a gun have to brandish their weapon openly. A concealed handgun will keep one just as safe as a Glock displayed on the hip, let alone an AR-15 on a strap. One of these days, someone is going to get hysterical in response to an open-carry demonstration, and everyone is going to be sorry.
4. This doesn’t seem like the day to make fun of the NRA. My friend Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg View has some fun with the NRA in a column titled “NRA Decides Good Guys With Guns Are Weirdos.” I get Frank’s point: Wayne LaPierre and his minions spend so much time inciting fear of crime, terrorism, and lethal maniacs that it’s odd to see the NRA trying to rein in open-carry advocates. Generally I agree with Frank about LaPierre’s paranoia-tinged cynicism. But a smarter response to the NRA blog post is to agree with it and work from there toward some common ground of civility, however narrow that piece of turf might be.