Gun extremists finally go too far: What will make the NRA realize they've lost America?

Will yet another school shooting change the approach of open carry activists determined to arm everyone?

By Paul Rosenberg

Contributing Writer

Published June 10, 2014 9:45PM (EDT)

Tara Cowan poses as she and members of Open Carry Tarrant County gathered for a demonstration. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing Arlington for amending an ordinance they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas.    (Associated Press/Tony Gutierrez)
Tara Cowan poses as she and members of Open Carry Tarrant County gathered for a demonstration. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing Arlington for amending an ordinance they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (Associated Press/Tony Gutierrez)

So it now appears that the Texas GOP plans to violate Texans' God-given right to get drunk and shoot someone. Wayne Slater reports:

Open carry advocates say they’ll be at the Fort Worth Convention Center this week for the state GOP convention to encourage a change in state law to allow open carry of handguns in Texas. State GOP chairman Steve Munisteri says it’s fine if demonstrators want to gather outside the hall, but can’t bring their rifles inside. He warns that would violate the prohibition against carrying guns anyplace that has a permit to sell alcohol.

Obviously, they'll need to secede from the GOP — or Texas, or both. But perhaps not immediately. The gun-toters of Texas have a lot on their plate these days. The NRA, they can handle, apparently. After a post on the NRA's "News and Issues" page criticized their strategy of carrying assault rifles into retail establishments as both “weird” and “scary,” not to mention “unneighborly,” Texas long gun open carry groups pushed back hard, and the NRA quickly backed down. But they did not fare nearly as well when asked a simple question about their public gun-toting strategy by MSNBC's Joy Reid.

“Do you think it would scare people?” Reid asked repeatedly, when she had Tov Henderson, communications director for Open Carry Texas, on "The Reid Report" on May 3. “I can’t get you to answer a very simple question, of do you think it scares people to see, let alone one armed person, but a bunch of armed people in this day and age, when we have so many mass shootings? Do you think it scares people?”

Well, yes, obviously it scares people. That's the whole point: to intimidate any opposition in the general public, and rally their small base of supporters with the thrill of throwing their weight around. But, of course, you're not supposed to say so. You're supposed to quietly intimidate people into accepting the lie that guns create safety, good order and neighborly good relations, when everyone knows they carry the potential to do exactly the opposite. This gets to the very heart of what's wrong with the NRA's whole misrepresentation of the gun issue, which is why the NRA would like to see it get dialed back a notch. They don't want their slip showing in public.

In an excerpt from his new book "The Second Amendment: A Biography," Paul Waldman explains “How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment,” turning a collective right of organized self-defense through the state militias into an individual right for any purpose whatsoever. But there's an even more fundamental misrepresentation than that, which I've written about before (here and here) — misrepresenting gun ownership as the foundation of a free and secure society:

According to the NRA’s logic, the right to bear arms is a fundamental right, on which all other rights depend. It is the basis for all our freedoms. But according to John Locke, the most central and venerated figure in rights-based political theory, it’s precisely the opposite: Our civil society is based on the inability of guns to protect our freedom and security.

In Locke's account, we have inalienable rights in a state of nature, but our rights are not secure, because a state of war can break out at any time between any two individuals or groups, in which everything can be taken from us, including our lives. Guns cannot help us in this state — nothing can. We must leave the state of nature to be secure in our rights. Government secures our rights — imperfectly, to be sure. But it establishes a framework of secure rights to be built up and improved on over time.

Locke's argument is quite clear, as is his vast influence as a political philosopher. But it's generally irrelevant in today's propaganda-drenched political environment — until a bunch of guys brandishing weapons amble into your local eatery and start scaring the bejesus out of folks, particularly if they have kids. Suddenly, the fundamental illogic of their premises — that gun rights form the foundation of civil order and liberty — is no longer abstract, it is visceral. Parents, in particular, feel it in their bones as a direct threat to the safety of their children. In sharp contrast to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, the gun-toters come across as threats to civilization, not its foundation. This is what Reid was insistently trying to get at: the basic experiential truth of what's been going on when Texas open carry activists bring their assault rifles into retail stores and restaurants to preen before their own cameras.

From the very beginning, Reid tried to bring Henderson into a reality-based dialogue — reality-based in a simple, down-to-earth, everyday sense, no science required. No evolution. No global warming. Just everyday folks trying to get something to drink, or a bite to eat.

“So Tov, what would be your argument against what the NRA has said?” Reid began, referring to the since retracted statement, “Because it is unusual to be standing in line, let's say, at the coffee shop, and have one, two or a hundred people walk up behind you, all with guns strapped to their backs. That is unusual, right? And you understand that that frightens people?”

And Henderson immediately went off on evasive maneuvers:

“Well, I ... to explain here, what a lot of people do not understand is there are already 44 states that allow open carry handguns. Texas, unfortunately, is not one of those. That's what we're trying to achieve. As the law's written right now, we're only permitted to open carry our long guns, and pre-1899 black powder pistols. So the reason for this, because, and the reason for us walking with them, is because we have no other option.”

No other options? How about leave your guns at home, and write your representative? That's what everyone else does in a representative democracy. But for the open carry folks, that's not good enough, because they are so oppressed, I guess. They “have no other option.”

But Reid wasn't buying his attempt at evasion:

“Well, sir, that's what you say it is, and you know that in your own mind, and you and your group say that to each other. But if I'm at, you know, the Quiznos with my kids and having a meal, and I'm not read up on your Facebook page, or I'm not a member of your circle of friends, and I don't know you and haven't talked to you, all I see is a bunch of guys walking in with big huge guns strapped to them. Do you understand that that scares people?”

Of course he understood. He had to — even if he couldn't admit it, not even to himself. And so he went off into evasive maneuvers once again:

You have to understand, in the past, what we've actually done is, we were actually invited into these establishments by the managers or ownership.

But Reid jumped in, again:

That's not what these guys are saying. These restaurants are saying they don't want you doing this because it scares folks. I still need you to answer that fundamental question. Do you understand that it scares people to see a bunch of guys with huge guns walking in, when you are sitting there, unawares, with your kids?”

Of course, Henderson continued to evade, talking about how they had “a whole different policy now” -- more on that, shortly. But Reid's point, like her repeated question, was spot on: Restaurants have not been inviting the open carry crowd in, as even their own Web-posted videos (since taken down) have shown. As Mother Jones senior editor Mark Follman reported on May 27, “Gun Activists Flaunting Assault Rifles Get Booted From Chili's and Sonic.” First they were booted out of the locations they invited themselves into, then the parent corporations issued new policies against letting them return to any of their stores. Yet, Henderson pretends his group and others like them have basically been greeted with open arms. He was not only evading Reid's question, he was doing so by spinning tall tales about how well-received and courteous the gun-toters had been. But, in fact, their groups had repeatedly encountered rejection, especially from a growing list of chain restaurants. Even before Chili's and Sonic acted, Follman noted, “No fewer than five national food and beverage chains have now told them to get rid of their guns or get lost, including Starbucks, Wendy’s, Applebee's, Jack in the Box, and Chipotle.”

So what, exactly, was the “whole new policy” Henderson referred to above? Simple, he said, “We all came together as leadership [of four Texas open carry groups] and we put our heads together and came up with a new plan, which was to not bring long arms into restaurants where we had not been previously invited or actually invited by the ownership.”

But wait a second. What did Henderson say just before this? I just told you, above: “You have to understand, in the past, what we've actually done is, we were actually invited into these establishments by the managers or ownership.” So how is this “new” policy new, then? Obviously Henderson was lying about the past. You can see that from their own video [preserved here], showing them being asked to leave their guns outside if they want to eat at Chili's.

But that's not the only thing Henderson was lying about. When Reid asked, point blank, “Do you think it scares people” to see a bunch of armed people “in this day and age, when we have so many mass shootings?” Henderson replied, “I think it has the potential to do anything, to have all kinds of emotions.” But when Reid then pressed him to name some other emotions, he couldn't, substituting “support” in place of an emotion other than fear:

Most of the emotions that we get is actually support, people walking up to us, whether it's outside on the sidewalk on the street, or if we, when in the past, we actually did restaurants, we don't do restaurants any more, but in the past, when we did, we didn't have any terror, we didn't have any fright. All we had was really interested people [who] wanted to know, 'Hey, why don't you people open carry handguns? Isn't that rifle overkill? And we'd get to explain to them, it really is a strange law, but we can't open carry our glocks.'

What a convenient “emotional” response that is! Too bad that it bears little resemblance to what their own videos reveal. In the video of them getting turned away from a Sonics, one of the group suddenly blurts out, in a flash of realization, "Nobody likes us." Some people do smile at them, though. But it can be hard to tell what that means. In the Chili's video mentioned above, one woman comes up, takes pictures of them all, then cheerily says, “You're a dumbass,” adding, as she turns to leave, “There are children here.” And this is what they showed on their own videos — though they did take them down, later.

But those were mild encounters compared to some other examples chronicled by Follman for Mother Jones. “There has also been a particularly dark side to the story of the gun activists,” he wrote on June 2, when the NRA, briefly, came out and criticized the open carry groups:

As I first reported in mid May, members of Open Carry Texas and their allies have used vicious tactics against people who disagree with them, including bullying and degrading women. Just last week they harassed a Marine veteran, pursuing him through the streets of Fort Worth on Memorial Day.

This is their actual record of conduct. In his story about “bullying and degrading women,” Follman began with the story of an NRA member paralyzed by gun violence who was spat upon in her wheelchair in an Indianapolis airport, after the spitter saw a clip from a Moms Demand Action press conference she was part of on a nearby TV monitor. Another story he tells is about how Open Carry Texas members repeatedly harassed a woman who called the police when she saw one of their assault rifle demonstrations:

On April 10, Brett Sanders, a member of Open Carry Texas in Plano, a midsize city in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, posted a video on YouTube highlighting the name and cellphone number of a woman who'd called the police after seeing heavily armed men on her way to a shopping mall. The post drew condemnation not only for outing the woman but also because it was misleading: It claimed that the woman had called 911, though she'd called the nonemergency line of the Plano PD. And the footage it used came from friendly-looking demonstrations elsewhere—not from the one that the woman encountered. ("Feel free to contact me when you work for a real news organization," Sanders replied to my request for comment.)

The woman—a high school teacher who asked not to be identified—quickly got pummeled with text messages and voicemails, copies of which she provided to Mother Jones. Callers told her she was a "stupid bitch" and "motherfucking whore."

"They fought for their right to carry guns," said another. "You're a piece of shit." One caller threatened to come after her with a gun.

Over the next four days she received nearly two dozen such calls and text messages.

That is the harsh reality of how the Texas open carry movement actually behaves, as opposed to the rose-colored version of how Henderson portrayed them, in the course of evading Reid's question. Not incidentally, Follman also noted, two other people called the police about the demonstration in Plano that day, but neither of them was targeted for harassment. Both were men. He added:

The attack left the teacher worried for the safety of her family: "I felt that if I walked out someone was going to be standing there." But in hindsight, she says, "I think they are very weak men. They use their guns because that's all they have. If you know what I mean."

Yes, we do know. There's a deeply gendered aspect to all this, just as there's a deeply racist one. It's about the loss of white male power, being recast in terms of a mythology of universal “God-given rights.” This is why they're impervious to the actual history of the Second Amendment, or the actual content of Lockean social contract theory. The true origins of our political institutions do not so nicely support their white male fantasy needs, so they substitute a new self-flattering mythology in its place. That's all very well when it's merely a matter of political rhetoric — particularly if no one else is listening in too carefully.

But everything changes when they start acting out in public, shoving their misogynist, racist views into the nation's face. That's what's happening in Texas right now, and the NRA has been at this game long enough to know that it's suddenly gone too far. They're trying to pull back, but we've all just seen how long that lasted — barely longer than a news cycle.

The danger for them is palpably real. They need to gin up their base, without stirring their would-be opponents, or alienated those in the middle. Now they're in danger of splitting their base, scarring and angering would-be opponents, and alienating a good chunk of the middle. But there's no easy way for them to turn back, because they're deeply committed to the myth that more guns make us more safe, and they're so fanatic in that belief that they're starting to brandish guns at anyone who dares to disagree. Facts on the ground are suddenly, sharply, turning against them. The very same logic that's worked for them for so long is suddenly having the exact opposite effect. Their intensity is finally starting to breed a similar intensity on the other side — and there are far more people on that other side, a good many of them gun owners themselves.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense is profoundly threatening to the NRA and the open carry crowd. Not least because moms are threatening to them. Let's face it, they love their guns because they haven't grown up yet. They're living in an adolescent fantasy world, however old they may be. And no adolescent boy wants to listen to his mom. That's the last thing on earth he wants. Which is how you know he's still a boy, not a man. And all these recent antics are making that increasingly apparent. It's not, at bottom, their masculinity that's being threatened. Rather, it's their lack of maturity, their childishness in how they flail and fail at being men. And as the realization of that grows, as we come to see their adolescent fantasy for what it truly is, gun safety politics in America is posed for a gay marriage-style shift.

NRA Apologizes for Open Carry Rebuke

By Paul Rosenberg

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News and columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.

MORE FROM Paul Rosenberg

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aol_on National Rifle Association Nra Open Carry Texas