The news: Open-carry advocates are taking to your local restaurants to show their resolve to keep on fighting for their right to carry firearms in public. And it's spawned a bizarre battle between some firearms owners and major businesses.
In the past few months, seven major restaurant chains have asked open-carry advocates to stop carrying firearms into their eateries after Texas activists carried out provocative demonstrations in which they carried semiautomatic rifles into everyday locations.
Mother Jones published videos of Open Carry Texas activists being asked to leave both Chili's and Sonic after similar demonstrations resulted in activists being asked to leave Starbucks, Wendy's, Applebee's, Jack in the Box and Chipotle. Texas law allows for the open carrying of rifles (but not handguns), so the activists were undoubtedly within their legal rights to carry on-premises — except at restaurants that served alcoholic beverages, which cited state laws prohibiting long arms from being carried at alcohol-serving locations as a rationale for the boot.
Other gun rallies have been seen at Target stores in Alabama, Ohio, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin and Virginia. Anti-gun group Moms Demands Action for Gun Sense in America claims that "gun extremists have been using Target stores to promote their agenda of intimidation."
What happened: In the wake of national attention, the gun rights crowd has backed down somewhat. Open Carry Texas and three other gun groups announced their intent to discourage members from carrying long guns to restaurants as activists and encourage more responsible behavior. And in a brief twist, the NRA issued a Friday statement criticizing "open carry" rallies as "downright weird."
"Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That's not the Texas way. And that's certainly not the NRA way."
"Now 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."
"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."
But to many gun activists, the only thing weird and scary about this situation is the NRA's denouncement of what they see as a perfectly legitimate protest. The statement led Open Carry Texas to say that the NRA had sided with the gun control movement. And then, under pressure from its base, the NRA quickly walked the statement back.
"The truth is, 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," said the NRA's lobbyist, Chris Cox. He added that the post was the work of one staffer and did not accurately relate the NRA's position.
What now? Businessweek's Paul Barrett suggests that the NRA will continue to appease whichever elements of its lobby demand the most liberal policies on guns, writing that the NRA has a "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."
Meanwhile, the gun rights community seems satisfied with the NRA's turnaround. "Getting the clarification from them that it wasn't an official stance and that it was just a low-level employee ... it makes sense," Open Carry Texas member Tov Henderson told USA Today.
Why you should care: As a result of this trend, firearms may be showing up in a restaurant near you, especially if you live in a state with a strong tradition of gun ownership. And if someone complains, some poor employee caught in the middle of a much larger political debate will face the unenviable task of asking a group of rifle-toting activists to leave.