On Monday June 22, 2014, the Houston chapter of Open Carry Texas had originally planned an armed march into the Fifth Ward, a predominantly African-American community. The group canceled the event because, they say, one of the members was committed to a previously scheduled event elsewhere.
Canceling the march was probably fortuitous because what could possibly have gone wrong? A gaggle of white, paleoconservative rednecks with military-style rifles strapped to their chests marching through an African-American neighborhood is never a recipe for harrowing consequences.
But seriously, while they’re not in line with the traditional definition of “terrorists,” the various open carry gangs popping up in shopping center parking lots, Target stores and all points in between need to face more intensive scrutiny for deliberately inciting fear among bystanders.
Imagine in the days and weeks following the Boston Marathon bombing, a group of self-proclaimed “constitutionalists” decided to exercise their right to assemble at a high school track and field event with backpacks filled pressure cookers. There’s nothing inherently illegal about it, is there? Or imagine if following 9/11 a group if Islamic citizens walked into a random public place carrying box cutters and shouting, “Allahu akbar!” It’s extraordinarily difficult to see the difference between these examples and, in the wake of ongoing mass shootings and other less heinous though still terrifying shootings in schools, shopping malls and movie theaters, groups of shall we say odd-looking white guys marching into department stores and Starbucks restaurants armed to the teeth with AR-15s, the Sandy Hook weapon. Really, is there any difference at all? It’s doubtful the pressure-cooker or box-cutter “protesters” would be allowed to get away with such activities. So, why are the open carry gangs getting a free pass?
The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Naturally then, there’s nothing wrong with peaceably assembling and protesting, but much like anti-abortion protesters gathered near a grade school playground with giant placards featuring images of aborted fetuses, or Code Pink protesters accosting public officials with blood-red hands and, inexplicably, giant puppets, there are some forms of protest that go too far.
That said Code Pink and the anti-abortion groups aren’t (necessarily) armed.
However, carrying loaded — or even unloaded — military-style weapons that are intentionally designed to look like props from a Michael Bay movie goes light years beyond peaceably protesting and merges into being ominous, sneering intimidation of innocent people, shoppers and so forth. There’s absolutely nothing “peaceable” about assembling while armed with weapons of death. If the only thing keeping intact the peaceable aspect of the open carry protests is that they haven’t yet discharged one or more of their AR-15s into a crowd, so I’m not sure the First Amendment protects the open carry gangs.
What we’re witnessing from these groups is absolutely a form of terrorism, thinly disguised as a defiant protest in support of the Second Amendment. Make no mistake, like the Bundy radicals, they’re itching for a fight. They want to be arrested. They want a nation in which the open carrying of deadly weapons is commonplace — with the critical downside that once the guns are accepted fashion accessories and the public is desensitized, actual homicidal mass shooters can more successfully blend into crowds without having to conceal a damn thing.
It defies reason how in the wake of these mass shootings that gun laws continue to become more permissible, rather than more restrictive. More astonishing is the reality that open carry gatherings in public places, especially in locations where the open carriers aren’t welcome, isn’t a more contentious issue. The logical endgame here is a society in which every third or fourth white guy you bump into at McDonald’s is armed with a retail product that can kill you on the spot. It’s growing into a Mad Max movie with fewer shoulder pads and more corporate gathering places. Wait, come to think of it, firearms were banned inside Bartertown. So the metaphor doesn’t totally hold up, but you know what I mean.
As with the conspiracy theory nutbars, there’s an opportunity to marginalize the open carry gangs before their ridiculous Cause balloons into societal regularity. There’s an opportunity to shame them as extremists, if not full fledged terrorists who are slowly transforming our public places into Tombstone, Arizona.
Oh, dammit, that’s right — guns were banned in Tombstone, too.
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