The announcement by Target Corporation that, while they are going to continue their practice of respecting local firearm laws, they “respectfully request” that customers not bring firearms into their stores has brought to a head a long-brewing conflict within the firearm rights community. That issue is the use of open carry of firearms as a form of political protest.

Some folks just oppose open carry in any context. Their reasons may be tactical, i.e. being an obvious target, or they may dislike potentially making others uncomfortable. Some oppose it only in the context of political protest. Some are OK with open carry of handguns but adamantly oppose open carry of long guns under any circumstances.

Even those who see open carry, whether long guns or handguns, as a valid form of protest are divided. Some think the only appropriate place for “political open carry” is in organized marches and rallies on public property intended to raise awareness of the issue. Others insist that marches and rallies just scare people and that routine open carry, including long guns, should just be part of life to get people used to seeing it and accustomed to the idea that a gun doesn’t make a person a threat. Yet another camp defends the right of property owners to bar people who are visibly carrying. And, naturally most of us are particularly disturbed when we see apparent safety violations being committed by protesters carrying long guns.

The already-complex stew is made even more complicated by the fact that a Texas law dating from Reconstruction prohibits open carry of handguns. The Lone Star State has been the focus of much of the controversy lately as protesters work to get the old law reformed.

The complexity of the issue has led to a lack of unity among the rights movement. The volume and tone of much of the criticism has been deafening. It seems that a brigade of armchair quarterbacks has decided to keep their skills honed in the off-season by bashing open carry protesters. What’s worse, they are basing their critiques and corrections exclusively on photographs and short video clips that only capture momentary glimpses of what’s really going on, and which are often put out by anti-gun activists looking not only for carry prohibitions, but to ban the guns themselves.

There’s no question that some people have said and done things under the banner of open carry advocacy that have been unhelpful and sometimes detrimental to their own side. A very few seem to just enjoy stirring the pot and doing something shocking that they heard about on the Internet. They are what the online community calls “trolls.” Characterizing the entire open carry movement based on the actions of a few trolls is just as wrong-headed as judging all gun owners based on the actions of a few criminals – or anti-rights propaganda pieces designed to put open carriers in a bad light.

I’ve been giving this issue some serious thought, and I think I’ve devised a solution for the problem of the gun rights movement being portrayed as a bunch of hairy, unkempt, irresponsible, young men with bad attitudes.

The solution is for well-groomed, nicely dressed, responsible men and women to join them – in droves.

The focus right now is on Texas and the ban on legally carried, visible handguns that the Yankee carpetbagger government instituted following the First War for Southern Independence, so let’s stay in that sandbox.

Rather than sitting behind our keyboards ridiculing Texas open carry advocates, it’s time for gun owners and lovers of liberty to stand with them and push for the long-overdue repeal of the 1871 ban on open carry. Those in Texas need to get connected with groups like Open Carry Texas and Texas Carry to find out what’s going on and how to get involved – especially by attending rallies and events – well-dressed and groomed, of course.. The Texas State Rifle Association needs to get off the sidelines and out of the criticism business and step up to their responsibility to be leaders in this fight. TSRA members should be lobbying their leadership to make that move. Whenever there is a rally or march or meet-up, there should be hundreds or thousands of carry supporters in attendance. And those supporters need not be carrying a gun – or even be gun owners – but those who are comfortable doing so should, and should set an example of how a model citizen and responsible gun owner looks and behaves.

Keyboard critics around the country need to shift their focus away from what Texas protesters are doing wrong and focus on what they are, could and should be doing right. The critics should also be using whatever influence they wield to encourage responsible gun owners to participate and demonstrate tactics and approaches that will advance the cause.

In any movement, there are always some socially challenged individuals who want to go too far, argue too loudly, or who have an aversion to bathing. In a demonstration of 20 people, a couple of these problem kids really stand out and are magnets for the media. But add 100 upstanding, responsible, respectable, respectful people to the event (as most gun owners and most of the people currently engaging in open carry protests are), and suddenly the few problem kids fade into the background.

As I told my newsletter subscribers, it’s time for more of us old guys to get out of our BarcaLoungers and get in the fight. It’s time for more homemakers to get out of the house and more competitive shooters to come off the range. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and it’s too important to be left only to the young and energetic. Some of us were the young Turks a few years ago being guided and mentored by the older, more experienced folks; now it’s our turn to be the village elders. We all need to do our part – and sitting back throwing rocks isn’t it.

(Photo courtesy of Open Carry Texas)

(Photo courtesy of Open Carry Texas)

Democracy is too important to be left exclusively to the young.  Seasoned veterans have an important role to play. (Photo courtesy of Open Carry Texas)

Democracy is too important to be left exclusively to the young. Seasoned veterans have an important role to play. (Photo courtesy of Open Carry Texas)

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