Gun Control: What Does the NRA’s Open-Carry Article Teach Us?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The National Rifle Association is dealing with a poorly timed publicity problem after an article published by the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), drew media attention for calling open-carry demonstrators in Texas “downright foolish.”

The headlines are cause for concern within the NRA because they appear to show a divided and self-critical NRA rather than the staunch pro-gun rights face that gun supporters have come to expect. This is ideal ammo, if you’ll excuse the pun, for gun-control proponents who can use the article as evidence that perhaps even the NRA thinks they’ve gone to far — a clearly problematic and unintended message from the gun lobby.

Yet that is, to an extent, exactly what the article said. The framing of it is also important though; the context within the whole article is worth discussing for the sake of its implications. Basically the article says that open-carry demonstrations en mass, as they were being seen in Texas, are simply bad strategy for the pro-gun community. In reining in the more extreme factions likely to drive away voters and alienate other neutral members of the public, the article was seeking a more moderate approach for the sake of better political results. This is not something you often see from the NRA, which is not known for being a particularly nuanced political organization.

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,” read the article. “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,” it said, pointing out that for those who are not familiar 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.”

Fear is hardly a reaction in the best interest of the NRA, especially in light of shootings across the states that create a knee-jerk reaction in individuals who do not carry guns. This suggests a degree of self-awareness and empathy to opposing views that, of course, resulted in a lot of flack for the NRA. Which is unfortunate, because it puts gun rights and gun control advocates further from a middle ground where negotiation, or dually approved policy, is easier to find. The article was a step in the right direction, it was good political strategy, and it was considerate of a larger-than-usual spectrum of opinion.

The article starts off with a discussion of smart guns, emphasizing that in theory smart guns are something the NRA supports — a major issue recently with some gun retailers facing threats and anger at the possibility they might sell them. “In principle, the idea would seem to have merit, at least in some circumstances. Certainly, the NRA doesn’t oppose anything that would make firearms more appealing or accessible to a larger segment of the American public. Not everybody has guns for the same reason, and we believe people are perfectly capable of determining for themselves what best suits their needs,” reads the article.

It goes on to address the real reason smart guns have become so politicized and protested by gun rights advocates — that legislation is in place in certain areas (New Jersey) –  so that when any one retailer begins selling the guns, they will become the only guns legally sold within the state after a three-year period. This forces the new technology into a either or situation and creates a great deal of anti-smart-gun sentiment that need not be there. Another point in favor of more moderate laws.

The eventual response to this article? Open Carry Texas posted on Facebook addressing the article, saying, “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 went on to call the article’s commentary “disgusting and disrespectful” and threatened to “withdraw its full support of the NRA and establish relationships with other gun rights organizations.” Attached was a photo of a NRA card that had been cut up. Basically a demand that any and all pro-gun activity be endorsed by the NRA for fiscal contribution.

Unsurprisingly, the NRA was quick to retract its statement. “An alert went out that referred to this type of behavior as ‘weird or somehow not normal, and that was a mistake. It shouldn’t have happened. I’ve had a discussion with the staffer who wrote that piece and expressed his personal opinion, and our job’s not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners,” said Chris W. Cox, chief lobbyist for NRA-ILA. Open Carry Texas “applaud[ed]” the “clarification on their stance of open carry.”

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