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Unintended Consequences: In-Your-Face Open Carry

With yet another business having been dragged into a gun control debate that they wanted nothing at all to do with, it’s time for open carry activists to reconsider their goals and tactics before we lose any more ground. In this article Doug reflects on open carry from his unique perspective as a gun owner and as a parent.

I’ve taken the last several days to reflect on the most recent open carry incident in which a small Dallas group carried rifles into a Chipotle Mexican Grill. For a variety of reasons, this trend of displaying “in your face” weaponry where it is both unnecessary and unwanted concerns me. Please understand that I know it’s our lawful Right to openly carry a rifle into a business. I hold this Right very dear and I carry a firearm every day. I invest my time, money, and energy into preserving this Right and will defend it however necessary should we find one day that we’re forced to do so.

The trend that I’m referring to is where lawful gun owners legally carry rifles, commonly AR or AK platform, into public places. I’m convinced this practice is done purely to make a statement as opposed to genuinely doing so for self-defense.

If we take an honest look at the current climate surrounding guns, gun owners and the 2nd Amendment, it’s pretty clear that all three are under attack. The political climate is heating up and the opposition literally has a playbook of how to use tragedies and other incidents to craft and push their anti-gun agenda.

Just because you can legally do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea

From a parent’s perspective, I carry a firearm every day and train with it regularly because I care about my family and want to be ready to protect them if it ever becomes necessary. When someone walks into a restaurant with a rifle, where my family and I are just trying to enjoy a burrito, my attention is immediately focused on the guy who is here to obviously make a statement… a statement of one kind or another. Is he a lawfully-armed patriot wishing to make a pro-2nd Amendment statement or is he a whack-job looking to make a statement while taking as many people down with him as he can? To be blunt, I’m not going to wait around to find out which statement he’s there to make because, in general, I’m weary of anyone who wants to make a statement with a rifle. Further, if he holds his rifle in the low-ready position like one of the guys is doing in the now infamous picture from Chipotle, that’s going to make things even worse.

I’m sitting in a restaurant, with my family, lawfully carrying a concealed firearm along with the rest of my EDC, just trying to enjoy the precious time we get to connect over a meal. Whatever statement you’re trying to make, I’m not interested… and you’re scaring me because I refuse to shove my head into the sand and simply assume you’re a law-abiding patriot. Thanks for ruining our family dinner.

As a gun owner, this breed of in-your-face open carry upsets me for a variety of reasons. There are certainly times and places where open carry is appropriate but there are well-accepted advantages to carrying concealed in public environments. The convenience of carrying and concealing handguns is why we even have them in the first place.

"The display of firearms in our restaurants has now created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers."

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Gun owners just want to be left alone. We don’t want any more gun laws, we carry concealed because we don’t want people to know we’re armed and, in general, we simply want to go about our lives unbothered. The simple fact of the matter is that we love our families enough to carry a means of protecting them and ourselves. Dragging company after company into the gun control debate against their will only further focuses the spotlight on us and adds fuel to our opposition’s fire. Whether a huge tragedy at the hands of a mentally ill individual or a couple of guys deciding it’s a good idea to make a statement in a restaurant… neither of these things do anything to help our cause, and in fact do the exact opposite.

American gun owners are a large group with incredible diversity but, instead of celebrating this, the opposition will take advantage of characterizing us in the least flattering way possible any chance they get. It’s in their playbook – anything they can do to discredit gun owners will help their cause. When activists pose for a picture with their rifles in a family restaurant, that picture is immediately paraded through the media by the gun-control groups as an example of the average “American Gun Owner.” Despite this, such incidents continue because a minority of gun owners consider such publicity to be a good thing. If we wish to change the negative image of gun owners that our opposition is fostering among the American people, we’re not doing ourselves any favors in that regard with continued stunts like carrying rifles into restaurants.

This is why we can’t have nice things

I have found that making statements like this group did only serves to shut down the lines of communication we desperately need to keep open. I also have found that we’re not just fighting a legal battle, but a social one too… and the rules in a social battle are very different from those in the courts. I’ve watched as perception has become everything in the social arena and have become frustrated that we’re not putting our best foot forward. I’ve seen that boycotts generally backfire because the opposition makes up for any lost business. I’ve found that walking around the streets waiting to be contacted by a police officer, with the intent to challenge them on case law and the Constitution on video, makes us all look confrontational and strains our relationship with law enforcement.

Three businesses have now been dragged into a debate they wanted absolutely nothing to do with simply because a group decided they wanted to lawfully carry their rifles into them to make a statement. Those three businesses have now also been claimed as public relations wins for gun-control groups who pressured them. Once again, we’ve delivered more ammunition for gun-control groups on a silver platter.

Starbucks, for example, wasn’t interested in being involved. “We follow all state and local laws” was Starbucks’ long-time policy on firearms. It wasn’t until a group of open carry activists decided they were going to take their rifles with them to enjoy a Frappuccino that Starbuck’s found themselves being beaten down with pressure from Mothers Demand Action. Thus far Starbucks STILL hasn’t banned firearms outright, instead opting for a policy of “we respectfully request you not bring a gun into our establishments but won’t ban you from doing so.” How many years have you carried a concealed handgun into Starbucks without it being an issue? What do you think their policy will be the next time someone elects to press the issue?

Jack in the Box was also uninterested in participating in the issue and, like Starbucks, they too were dragged into it anyway because of the actions of a small group of open carry activists. Not 10 days after their statement saying “…while we respect the rights of all our guests, we would prefer that guests not bring their guns inside our restaurants” there had already been two separate criminal robberies where a firearm was used. Again, what good did the open carry event do for us? Not much. Instead, it forced another corporation into a decision they wanted nothing to do with, and gave gun-control groups like MDA another feather in their cap. It also didn’t do an ounce of good in making their restaurants safer places.

Now, most recently, Chipotle has been dragged into the conflict and, they too, have been strong-armed into making a statement of “please don’t bring your guns into our restaurants unless you’re a police officer.” Once again, gun-control groups can crow about yet another victory and continue to win the public relations battle.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results

So we’re zero-for-three on success from open carrying rifles in restaurants. Let’s stop doing that. It has done nothing positive for gun rights and has only served to strengthen the gun-control groups. Further, it has done absolutely nothing to make the undecided public more comfortable around firearms and, more than likely, has caused many of them to fear guns even more. The fact that 2.5x as many people are killed by fists, feet and blunt objects than by rifles means nothing to a parent having dinner with their kids when someone suddenly walks in with a slung AR.

Fortunately, I think we’re making progress. A recently released statement on the open carry of long arms says, "Whereas, our mission is to get open carry of handguns passed in Texas, we must once again adjust in a way that shines a positive light on our efforts, our members, and our respective organizations. We have decided the prudent path, to further our goals, is to immediately cease taking long guns into corporate businesses unless invited."

Let’s now focus on putting our best foot forward in the way we look, the way we speak and the way we conduct ourselves as gun owners. Counsel those who may be considering an open carry stunt in understanding the emotions and anxiety it causes in the people around them and how such “in your face” tactics have failed in the past. There are better ways to get our message across than shock and awe. Arm yourself with facts and share them. By no means am I suggesting we give an inch or stop the conversation. I’m simply recommending that we be strategic in our actions and present ourselves as kind, trustworthy, approachable individuals who aren’t going to throw our Rights in someone else’s face. Perception is everything and, I’m convinced, we can turn the tables on gun-control groups by improving the image of an “American Gun Owner” and being thoughtful in our actions.

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