On Saturday, four members of Mothers Demand Action—a national gun control advocacy group that claims more than 100,000 members and has chapters around the country—met at a restaurant in Arlington. In the parking lot of that same restaurant, 40 members of Open Carry Texas arrived as part of an “awareness walk,” in which they carry their weapons openly. That much of the story is not disputed. Just about everything else—from whether the Mothers Demand Action members misrepresented the behavior of the Open Carry demonstrators to the media to whether the Open Carry folks were there to intimidate the smaller group—is subject to interpretation.
The crux of the debate, which has raged on the social media channels of Open Carry Texas and progressive political outlets like Think Progress, involves the photograph at the top of this post, which definitely makes the Open Carry demonstrators look bad: They stand in a line, some crouches, forming what appears to be a heavily-armed wall. However, Open Carry Texas posted a picture to its Facebook page that provides some additional context for what’s really happening with the members in the photo:
Accusations of dishonesty against MDA might be rash, but the alternate angle on the second photo certainly demonstrates that there is more than one way to view a lineup of people brandishing semi-automatic weapons in the parking lot of a fast-casual restaurant in Arlington. But the questions surrounding what occurred in the parking lot of the Blue Mesa Grill extend beyond a single photograph. Accusations of intimidation and bullying have been directed from MDA to Open Carry Texas, and the organization hasn’t exactly responded in a way that mitigates those concerns.
On OCT’s various social media channels, the response has been downright antagonistic toward Mothers Demand Action—and specifically toward founder Shannon Watts—in ways that make it clear that being outnumbered by armed members of OCT was probably pretty uncomfortable. To be clear, Open Carry Texas is certainly not breaking the law, but it makes OCT’s insistence that their appearance in the parking lot was to ensure “no harm came to those gun grabbers so they could exercise their first amendment rights in peace” sound disingenuous, to say the least.
Open Carry Texas has the right to insist that those who disagree with them are “anti-gun asshats” and remind the public that their AR-15 semi-automatic rifles are loaded; they have the right to declare that they “could kick your ass without a gun” to people who challenge them on Twitter; they can call their opponents “mindless zombies” and question whether they’re “intelligent or confident enough to handle an open debate.” They also have the right to appear in the same parking lot that a group of their political opponents are meeting in significant numbers, all armed with the sort of long rifles that are legal to openly carry in Texas. If the question is merely “is what Open Carry Texas did on Saturday legal,” the answer is a resounding yes.
But just because it was legal doesn’t mean that it wasn’t intimidating or bullying, and it’s hard to fault members of an organization focused on gun control for feeling intimidated when a larger group of people who gleefully express their disdain for them show up outside of their meeting heavily armed. It’s disingenuous of Open Carry Texas, especially in the wake of their follow-up responses, to pretend that their presence outside of the meeting wasn’t antagonistic.
And, again, antagonizing your political opponents within the law is a right of all Americans. But the notion that “an armed society is a polite society” isn’t really playing out here, and it’s clear that the equation is pretty far out of whack when only one segment of the debate is carrying arms.