NRA misses its shot at sensible open carry view
Recently, the National Rifle Association broke tradition by moving away from its long-held position of pushing against any restrictions on gun ownership when the NRA Institute for Legislative Action website posted an article critical of open carry activism.
“Let’s not mince words,” the article said of a recent movement by members to openly carry in public. “Not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself.”
What sparked the NRA to criticize members of its base? Was it any of a number of tragedies involving guns? Was it a shift in policy, recognizing the possible dangers of guns in public? Was it an acceptance that gun control could be a good thing?
In truth, it was none of the above. Instead, the NRA criticized how open carry enthusiasts make gun owners look like they have poor or unseemly etiquette.
This statement is less of a criticism and more of a gentle chiding; it’s Cersei telling her son Joffrey to calm down in “Game of Thrones.” The NRA doesn’t want to really change its position on the issue, just to gain more favor by looking like it is changing its views.
“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,” said the NRA piece, “it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”
If the NRA had chosen to discourage and criticize open carry activists, it could have been seen as a positive sign that the organization is willing to take a more moderate stance on gun rights issues, focusing less on expanding rights and more on responsible ownership. I would argue that doing so would gain the NRA more favor, and help reach out to non-gun enthusiasts.
There are good arguments against expanding open carry laws. A study conducted in 2012 by Jessica Witt and James Brockmole from Purdue University looked into the psychological effect of carrying a gun in encounters that could be seen as dangerous.
“By virtue of affording a perceiver the opportunity to use a gun,” they wrote, “he or she was more likely to classify objects in a scene as a gun and, as a result, to engage in threat-induced behavior.”
Witt and Brockmole found that the presence of a gun in a situation where a person had to determine a threat made them more inclined to use deadly force.
However, the NRA wasn’t arguing that open carry was dangerous; instead, in a rustic hokey tone reminiscent of a wise old Southerner, it chides its base as though they were children at a dinner party, not potentially dangerous individuals.
Furthermore, the article was put under heavy criticism by members after its release and the organization quickly distanced itself from the piece.
The tragedy of this reaction is that it further signals that the gun enthusiasts who make up the NRA are so focused on an absolutist attitude that they find even light criticism from the organization of any conduct by gun owners to be too much.
In the weeks following this piece and the subsequent controversy, multiple major shootings have occurred, including one at UC Santa Barbara and another at Reynolds High School in Oregon.
Tucson is all too familiar with gun violence. The 2011 shooting that took six lives and severely wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is still fresh in our minds, yet Arizona is still a pro-gun state where the issue of gun control is contentious.
Despite all the major shooting incidents of late, discussions of gun control and proposals placing limits on gun owners have been met with resistance from the pro-gun side of the debate.
If the NRA cannot convince its own members and argue that guns do not need to be present everywhere, and will not take the side of any gun restrictions, what hope is there for more moderate minds to convince the organization and its membership to accept gun control?