The spectrum of gun rights groups runs the gamut. But you know a gun group has gone too far when even the National Rifle Association is criticizing it. (Update: The NRA has retracted its criticism – more below.)
That’s the position that Open Carry Texas – which believes citizens ought to be able to pack any kind of heat in public and in just about any kind of setting, including bars and political conventions – now finds itself in. (Update: The
Open Carry Texas first attracted public notice last week when the group's armed members were banned from Chipotle franchises as well as Chili’s and Sonic restaurants after different chapters of the group entered eateries around the state bearing assault rifles and other firearms. That was followed by a series of subsequent episodes that upset local Texans, who accused the group’s members of bullying tactics and intimidation.
All that negative press coverage in a state like Texas appears to have motivated the NRA to express concern about the nature of the protests. The group, which supports "open carry" for handguns, on Monday issued a statement criticizing Open Carry Texas members for having “recently crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness.”
“[W]hile 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,” the statement reads.
It continues: “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.”
There was good reason to question the motives of at least some of those involved, it turns out. A Marine Corps veteran and gun rights supporter, James Henry, got into an argument with Open Carry Texas supporters on Friday while filming one of their demonstrations in Dallas. He was followed and verbally harassed by members of the group, who videotaped him. Now the man is facing death threats and has to himself carry a weapon at all times.
"One said you're going to wish you had a gun, boy, when I fill you with holes," Henry told a Dallas TV station.” “I'm being used on this one side as a proponent for gun control which I don't agree with and also being used as a proponent that I'm some crazy left wing guy, which I'm not," he said. He just happens to find the Open Carry tactics repugnant: "That is not being ambassadors for responsible gun owners to support gun rights.”
That was followed by another recent incident in which a group of Open Carry Texas supporters showed up fully armed to protest a women’s anti-gun violence organization, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (MDA), at its regular meeting at a Dallas-area restaurant.
A spokesperson for MDA said that the four mothers who comprised the gathering were all inside the Blue Mesa Grill when the Open Carry advocates “pull[ed] up in the parking lot and start[ed] getting guns out of their trunks,” and then waited in the parking lot for the women to come out. The women remained inside instead, fearful of “inciting a riot.” The Open Carry advocates reportedly shifted their operation to a nearby Hooters after a couple hours.
MDA issued a statement decrying the Open Carry advocates as “gun bullies,” noting that the four mothers and remaining restaurant customers were “terrified by what appeared to be an armed ambush.”
The outrageous antics of Open Carry Texas’ supporters provoked a counter-protest at one of the group’s suburban demonstrations in North Richland Hills, where a man named Glynn Wilcox and his son showed up with signs opposing the group’s “intimidation.”
“While everybody has the opportunity to carry open arms, carrying them in a front forward sling and making a scene of it isn’t showing you’re trying to get rights,” said Wilcox. “You’re being a bully.”
Open Carry Texas’ stance amid all this controversy has been defiant. Rather than scale back its aggressive tactics, the group’s leaders recently called on delegates to arrive fully armed at the Texas state Republican convention later this summer.
As for the NRA, Open Carry Texas’ spokesmen thumbed their noses at the much larger organization and announced on Facebook that they were tearing up their memberships.
"It is unfortunate that an organization that claims to be dedicated to the preservation of gun rights would attack another organization fighting so hard for those rights in Texas,” it said. “Already, OCT members are posting pictures of themselves cutting up their life membership cards. If they do not retract their disgusting and disrespectful comments, OCT will have no choice but to withdraw its full support of the NRA and establish relationships with other gun rights organizations that fight for ALL gun rights, instead of just paying them lip service the way the NRA appears to be doing."
Update: Media Matters reported Tuesday evening that the NRA's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, retracted the group's criticism of Open Carry Texas:
Cox said that the statement was "a mistake" and that "it shouldn't have happened," adding "our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners." Cox also blamed the statement on a "staffer" who Cox said "expressed his personal opinion." Referencing media interest in the statement, Cox termed it a "distraction."