Elaine Thompson/APt

NRA calls open-carry gun demonstrations ‘downright foolish’

Statement garners criticism from gun-rights advocates who feel betrayed by the organization

The National Rifle Association this week joined companies like Starbucks and Chipotle in criticizing gun-rights advocates who insist on carrying military-style assault rifles into businesses as part of demonstrations supporting open-carry gun laws.

The advocates’ actions in restaurants and other public places — part of a push for less restrictive gun laws, including legalizing the open carry of handguns — have prompted public criticism.

The NRA has long been a zealous advocate for gun owners’ rights. But the group’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, has called the demonstrations counterproductive for promoting gun rights, scary and “downright weird.”

In a statement published on the NRA’s website this week, the group applauded Texas’ “robust gun culture” but said “a small number [of gun-rights advocates] have recently crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness.”

“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,” the association said in a statement posted on its website Friday.

Open Carry Texas, a gun rights advocacy group, responded on Monday with a post on its Facebook page criticizing the NRA and threatening to withdraw its support if the association does not retract its statement.

“It is unfortunate that an organization that claims to be dedicated to the preservation of gun rights would attack another organization fighting so hard for those rights in Texas,” Open Carry Texas said. “The more the NRA continues to divide its members by attacking some aspects of gun rights instead of supporting all gun rights, the more support it will lose.”

The post featured an image of a destroyed NRA membership card.

“Already, OCT members are posting pictures of themselves cutting up their life membership cards. If they do not retract their disgusting and disrespectful comments, OCT will have no choice but to withdraw its full support of the NRA and establish relationships with other gun rights organizations that fight for all gun rights, instead of just paying them lip service the way the NRA appears to be doing.”

Texas has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, but openly carrying handguns remains illegal. Long guns like rifles may be carried openly but must be done so in a way that does not cause alarm. Gun holders may be charged with disorderly conduct if anyone around them feels threatened.

The activists’ demonstrations have upset some people.

The Chipotle restaurant chain asked customers last month not to take firearms into its stores after members of Open Carry Texas took military-style assault rifles into one of its restaurants in the Dallas area.

Gun-rights advocates told Al Jazeera that Chipotle’s request didn’t amount to corporate policy and that chains like Chipotle and Starbucks, which issued a similar statement in September 2013, were trying to avoid angering both pro- and anti-gun activists. 

“These statements are carefully crafted to say, ‘We are making the kind request that [you leave firearms at home], but we aren’t — especially since it’s legal — telling our [gun-toting] customers not to come here,’” said Erich Pratt, spokesman for Virginia-based guns-rights advocacy group Gun Owners of America.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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