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NRA Calls Out Texas Open Carry Activists For Giving Gun Groups Bad PR

New gun control efforts are forcing the NRA to change its strategy.

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Last week saw the Texas equivalent of surrender at the Alamo—for that state’s gun nuts.

The National Rifle Association reprimanded an even more extreme pro-gun group, Open Carry Texas, for giving the gun nut community a bad name by taking their military-style assault rifles with them to eat at fast food and national chain restaurants, scaring both employees and other Texans seeking some comfort food.    

“Recently, demonstrators have been showing up in various places, including coffee shops and fast food restaurants, openly toting a variety of tactical long guns,” the statement by the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action said. “While unlicensed open carry of long guns is also [like handguns] typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone slide up 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 NRA’s rebuke continued, basically telling the open-carry Texans to grow up. 

“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 one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”

Nobody should think for a minute that the NRA’s leadership has been in sensitivity training. Indeed, a day after the statement, ILA Chief Executive Chris Cox started walking it back, saying the NRA did not mean to offend its allies. 

America’s love-hate relationship with guns and gun controls has been in a period of notable upheaval since December 2012’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Both pro- and anti-gun groups have been more aggressive across the country—with 1,500-plus proposed bills introduced in state legislatures and new grassroots groups on both sides forming and speaking up.

By some counts, such as Mother Jones’ongoing reporting, the gun control side has been winning because the handful of states that passed new gun control laws—such as New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado and California—have adopted more sweeping measures than the NRA and its allies. However, there are notable red-state exceptions, such as Georgia and Alabama, where previous gun control laws have been gutted. Residents in those state can even take guns into grade schools.

“This year [2014], the policies designed to strengthen state gun laws that are making progress in state legislatures revolve mostly around domestic violence and mental health prohibitions,” the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence’s most recent report said. “Indiana, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have already enacted laws to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers. Twelve additional states are currently considering bills on this crucial topic.”

But other longtime NRA watchers said it would be a mistake to believe that the NRA is in retreat, and cautioned reading too much into the latest Texas open-carry brawl.

“The NRA is not more cautious, it is just politically careful,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and author of Gunfight: The Battle Over The Right To Bear Arms in America. “The NRA leaders see the open carry advocates as threatening the progress of the NRA has made. Given laws expanding gun rights, and curbing gun-control laws, like Georgia’s guns everywhere law, it would be hard to conclude that the NRA is getting timid. Since Newtown, the NRA has been more successful at winning legislation repealing gun control then gun-control advocates have been strengthening controls.”