The National Rifle Association’s webpage claims it is “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization [and] diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.” So the NRA raised some eyebrows recently when it criticized a group of Texans who were lawfully and peacefully demonstrating for Second Amendment rights.
The Texan group Open Carry Texas (OCT), which has branches in most counties and major cities throughout Texas, promotes the right to carry firearms openly. Currently, Texas law allows long guns, such as rifles, to be openly carried in public — but not handguns.
OCT has recently advocated its position by having its members take long guns into restaurants. Patrons who lawfully and openly carry firearms into restaurants have been the focus of much debate. Businesses struggle to balance the rights of Second Amendment supporters with the fact that some customers are uncomfortable with openly displayed guns. There has been no consensus among restaurants about how to handle this. Some restaurants, like Buffalo Wild Wings, do not allow their customers to legally carry firearms in their businesses. Others, like Starbucks and recently Jack In The Box, request (but do not insist) that customers leave their firearms at home.
OCT decided to weigh in on the public debate over firearms in restaurants, and held open carry demonstrations at restaurants throughout Texas. While condemnation from gun-control groups was expected (and received), OCT was attacked from a surprising source—the NRA. The legislative lobbying group of the NRA accused the civil rights demonstrators of lacking “consideration and manners,” “downright foolishness,” and a “hijinx.”
Second Amendment supporters were largely stunned. OCT itself responded swiftly, using social media to post photographs of (now former) NRA members cutting up their membership cards.
The NRA then reversed its position, claiming that its earlier denouncement of OCT’s demonstrations was a “mistake” and that one low-level staffer was expressing his personal opinion. While the NRA’s initial reaction and subsequent retraction are somewhat puzzling, it does raise the question of whether open carry demonstrations help or hinder the promotion of the Second Amendment.
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On one hand, you can argue that the open carry demonstrations harm promotion of the Second Amendment. After an open carry demonstration at a local Texas Jack In The Box, the restaurant’s senior management issued a statement asking patrons not to carry firearms in the restaurant. This view, however, is the easy way out of a difficult issue.
A longer-term view is needed. Looking back in history, civil rights activists have repeatedly been compelled to engage in constitutionally protected behavior that made others uncomfortable. Women demonstrating for the right to vote in the early 1900s were arrested and jailed for months. Some of the arrested women even started hunger strikes, but authorities were unimpressed and force-fed them. The courage of one lone woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger ignited the spark that finally began America down the road of racial equality.
Demonstrating for your civil rights has never been easy. Just as those seeking rights in the past have done, sometimes those seeking rights now have to engage in conduct that may make others uncomfortable. Even though it’s legal to carry a rifle into a restaurant in Texas, it may not be easy if staff confronts you or people stare at you or parents leave in disgust.
Some may disagree with this analysis, and argue that it’s demeaning to Rosa Parks and other courageous civil rights activists of the past to compare Second Amendment rights with the right to vote, or to racial equality. While I respect that view, I look at it from a different perspective. To me, any constitutional right that a state or the federal government tramples must be protected. All of our individual rights are precious and must be advocated at all cost. The reason for this is that in constitutional law, the legal standards the Supreme Court use to allow infringement of our rights can be applied to any of the rights. That analysis is beyond the scope of this article, but if the Supreme Court uses its rationale to erode the Fourth Amendment, the court might come next after whatever amendment or right is of personal importance to you. For example, I am fairly indifferent to the Fifth Amendment’s requirement of indictment by grand jury for federal defendants, because I think the grand jury process is much too favorable to the prosecution. But if the federal government ever tried to take it way or limit it, I’d oppose it 100 percent.
Americans simply must insist on exercising of all our rights, even those some of us may be indifferent to or even dislike.
Do you believe open carry activists are helping or hurting gun rights? Tell us in the comments section below.