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NRA talks sense (then changes its mind) [Editorial]

National Rifle Association of AmericaRestaurant and Catering IndustryDining and DrinkingPersonal Weapon ControlBusinessGun Control

It is a comfort, albeit one of small caliber, to learn that there are actions people can take in the cause of gun rights that are so extreme they give pause to some poor soul within the headquarters of the National Rifle Association. Recent demonstrations in Texas in which proponents of open-carry gun laws have toted rifles into fast food outlets en masse got a written reprimand from the NRA — until a spokesman apologized for the criticism.

Got that? NRA says don't go so far, gun demonstrators, then apologizes because, well, somebody went too far in suggesting scary tactics are ill-advised.

For those who have not followed the travails of Open Carry Texas and its allies, just be thankful that you don't live in the Lone Star state and have a hankering for a barbacoa burrito. In recent months, it's become common for demonstrators to show up at variety of public places with AR-15s or similar long guns strapped to their backs, which is legal in Texas.

Indeed, it's happened so frequently that a growing number of chains have banned armed patrons from their premises including Sonic, Chili's Grill & Bar, Jack in the Box and Chipotle. Apparently, these establishments discovered that it makes customers a bit nervous to sit down to eat while heavily armed civilians chow down in close proximity.

Someone might want to let Gov. Rick Perry know that it's not just taxes and regulations that can keep businesses away or discourage investment. Call us crazy, but it's just seems to be unsettling to most people to find out their local chain restaurant has taken on all the charm of Crimea under siege. That's not a bad business climate, it's a bad living climate.

Still, this conflict has not been lost on the NRA, which initially suggested that tactic was "weird" and "defies common sense." While applauding the enthusiasm of demonstrators, the NRA suggested "a small number have recently crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness."

"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," the posting continued. "It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates."

Whoa. That sounds pretty reasonable. But, it didn't last long. On Tuesday, NRA lobbyist Chris Cox publicly called the statement a "mistake" and only the personal opinion of a staffer. "Our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners," he said. So much for the organization showing signs of common sense.

The retraction is more in line with the NRA's general unconcern for public sensitivities, particularly after recent firearms-related mass casualties. Generally, the organization's response to these incidents has been to promote a "good guy" doctrine that would have you believe the only way to thwart shootings at schools, movie theaters, shopping centers and the like is for regular folks to go packing heat. Never mind about the cross-fire.

Well, they came packing in Texas. And say what you might about eating hamburgers while your fellow diners share a package of 223 Remington ammo with their McNuggets, we are aware of no reports of mass casualties during any of the episodes. Of course, there were those employees at a Ft. Worth Jack in the Box who hid inside the restaurant's freezer last month when they saw heavily armed men coming toward them, but hey, things happen.

Apparently it is but a lonely NRA staffer who thought that when businesses start drawing the line and regular people are freaking out, particularly in a gun-friendly state like Texas, the interests of gun owners are not well served. After Open Carry Texas posted on its Facebook page that the NRA had "lost its relevance and sided with #guncontrolextremists and their lapdog media," the disavowal came quickly.

If nothing else, the episode demonstrates that the divisions over guns have never been greater and extend even within the mighty NRA. And all that inflammatory anti-government rhetoric, anger and paranoia over gun rights that the NRA has stoked over the years isn't just going to go away the minute somebody at headquarters recognizes that it's gone too far.

Let these several-fries-short-of-a-Happy-Meal activists keep going down this path of weaponizing fast food while more rational heads within the gun rights community stand mute and see where it gets them. One can only hope that the public backlash will, eventually, get all of us back to a conversation about how to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill, common sense protections that the families of shooting victims from California to Connecticut deserve to see enacted before the next horrific incident.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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National Rifle Association of AmericaRestaurant and Catering IndustryDining and DrinkingPersonal Weapon ControlBusinessGun Control
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