If you were out to dinner, particularly with kids, and some manly guys jonesing for food showed up toting AK-47s or AR-15s, would you feel comfortable? Or would you get up and leave the restaurant?
I ask this, because the latest manifestation of gun rights - its pathetic logical extension - is the “open carry” movement. The news photos tell the story: Overgrown children, notably in Texas, have decided that the best way to flex their Freedom is to scare the living daylights out of their unarmed fellow patrons. The tactic has already proved so polarizing (and potentially so bad for business) that a slew of chains, including Chipotle, Chili’s, Sonic, and Starbucks, are saying no to bang bangs.
An “open carry” movement was inevitable. The gun-rights crowd has pushed so hard for so long - twisting the original intent of the Second Amendment, ensuring an America armed to the teeth - that of course it would inevitably push too far. Now it’s trafficking in toxic symbolism, “taking a stand” in restaurants even at the risk of freaking out most citizens.
That’s already happened. According to a new national poll, 55 percent of Americans believe that guns should be banned in food establishments and retail stores; 32 percent say it’s fine to dine with guns on display. The party breakdown is totally predictable: Democrats strongly oppose open carry, swing-voting independents moderately oppose open carry (48 percent no, 34 percent yes), and Republicans...well, take a wild guess. Only 41 percent of Republicans oppose open carry; 50 percent have no problem chowing down with an AK-47 in plain view.
But wait, I’ve buried the best part. Turns out, “open carry” is too radical even for the NRA.
In a statement last Friday, the gun lobby told the gun toters to cool it - not because the NRA sees anything wrong with flashing one’s Freedom weaponry (heck no), but merely because it’s bad politics:
“Recently, demonstrators have been showing up in various public places, including coffee shops and fast food restaurants, openly toting a variety of tactical long guns....Yet while unlicensed open carry of long guns is typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle 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.”
“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....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 (and risk) turning an undecided voter into an antigun voter, because of causing that person fear or offense....We owe it to each other to act as checks on our bad behavior.”
First, the NRA is correct when it says that “unlicensed open carry of long guns is typically legal in most places,” but it’s also worth noting that six states have blanket bans on the open carry of long guns. Another six states have severe restrictions on the open carry of long guns.
Second, it’s nice that the NRA is distressed about the open carry tactic. But the open carry activists are the logical extension of NRA activism. For years the NRA has preached that gun Freedom has virtually no boundaries - and these activists are simply trying to live the mantra, invoking the spirit of the (vanished) frontier. Not surprisingly, they’re furious about the NRA statement; they say it’s “disgusting and disrespectful,” and they’re cutting up their NRA membership cards. Call it rough justice for the gun lobby; extremism has consequences.
And with so many chains banning weapons on the premises, think of all the advertising possibilities. If only Don Draper could have a go at it.
Maybe, “Burritos Without Bullets!”
Or, “Fun for the Whole Unarmed Family!”
Or, best of all, “Hey Kids! Now You Can Eat Gun Free!”
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.