WAYNE LAPIERRE and the National Rifle Association just got a grand slam on the “open carry” issue.
They can thank the Obama White House Genius Bar for the opportunity for the NRA to look rational, Wayne LaPierre to sound “Presidential,” and the gun industry to cleverly knock “gun safety” foundation babies and nubbins off of their stride.
Five years ago, Barack Obama’s White House also had the bases loaded on open carry. It was tossed a floating pitch that it could have blasted out of the park. But President Barack Obama, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and his media marvel, Robert Gibbs, were playing Whiffle Ball in the Bigs. They collectively blew it, not only politically but to the nation’s great long-term harm.
Let’s be clear: the NRA’s admonition to the nitwits of the “open carry” movement was not a victory for the groundlings of the “gun safety and stuff like that” movement. It was as clear-eyed, coldly strategic a move as anything the NRA has ever done. The gun industry’s mouthpiece simply threw a small and annoying claque under the much larger and more successful gun rights train. The open carry movement has never been important to the gun industry or the NRA, as I described in my famous book, The Last Gun, published by The New Press. (See further below for the salient paragraphs.)
Let’s go to the tapes.
Here, in relevant part, is what the NRA posted this week chastising the “open carry” movement for its recent actions (toting assault rifles around in public):
…just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. In each case, gun owners would do well to consider the effect their behavior has on others, whether fellow gun owners or not.
Let’s not mince words, 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. 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. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.
But when people act without thinking, or without consideration for others – especially when it comes to firearms – they set the stage for further restrictions on our rights. Firearm owners face enough challenges these days; we don’t need to be victims of friendly fire.
Okay, you’re thinking, what’s your problem? Sounds good. The NRA is reining in the gun nuts. No, actually, it’s not. It’s simply trying to excise a tiny number of people who are getting in the way of the big money in the gun industry: selling concealable handguns and accessories, and selling semiautomatic assault rifles and accessories. There is simply no value added to the gun market by open carry. (Politically, think of open carry nitwits as Trotskyites who have been purged by the NRA’s Stalinists.)
Here is what I wrote in The Last Gun, contrasting the huge concealed carry market with the desert of open carry:
An idea of how much fresh blood concealed-carry laws have pumped into the anemic gun industry is demonstrated by Florida’s experience. Before the new law, 16,000 Floridians were reported to have concealed carry licenses. As of August 31, 2012, Florida had dispensed 1,151,537 gun licenses, of which 963,349 were run-of-the-mill concealed-carry licenses. the remainder were for various specialized occupations, such as private investigators. Add to this growth the increased sales in all of the forty-one states that as of February 2012 have shall-issue laws similar to Florida’s, and it’s clear that the NRA’s gift to the gun industry was a big one, a gift that keeps on giving profits to the industry while taking innocent lives.
If this boom from the NRA’s concealed-carry push made gun retailers happy, gun manufacturers and importers were tickled pink. Designing and marketing new lines of small but powerful “pocket rockets” in high calibers for the new concealed-carry market boosted manufacturers as well. This factor explains why the industry has never thrown its weight behind the “open-carry” movement. Just about any gun will do for open carry. A handgun can be stuck into a waistband or shoved into a holster. A long gun can be slung over the shoulder. No special gun size or design is required for carrying a gun openly, no accessories are needed, and no specialized clothing need be worn. Thus open carry offers few new, if any, profitable marketing ploys to tempt [gun industry marketer] Massad Ayoob’s “walking cluster” gun buyer. (emphasis added here)
The marginal nature of the claque of open carry nitwits was completely misunderstood by the Obama White House five years ago, caught up as it was (and is) in the paralytic nonsense of the so-called “Third Way” movement.
Here is what I wrote about this shameful performance in The Last Gun:
The degree to which the gun lobby can control the political debate was starkly illustrated in August 2009 at a White house press conference. During that month, a spate of armed protestors began showing up at presidential events. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a man with a gun strapped to his leg stood outside a town hall meeting with a sign reading, “It’s time to water the tree of liberty.” The reference was to a letter in which Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” In Phoenix, Arizona, about a dozen people carrying guns, including one with an AR-15 assault rifle, milled around among protesters outside the convention center, where the President was giving a speech. A spokesman for the Secret Service admitted that incidents of firearms being carried outside Presidential events were a “relatively new phenomenon,” but insisted that the President’s safety was not being jeopardized.
But, one might fairly have asked, what about the safety of other ordinary citizens who aren’t carrying guns and don’t want to carry guns? What about their rights, and their preferences? What about the intimidation inherent in the open display of guns at political events by people who are, to put it mildly, clearly angry? What will be the effect of this precedent on future Presidents—and other public figures? What about the possibility of people showing up with more advanced firepower—such as freely available 50 caliber antiarmor sniper rifles?
When asked about these events, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs spoke only to the parochial interests of gun enthusiasts, saying merely that people are entitled to carry weapons outside such events if local laws allow it. “There are laws that govern firearms that are done state or locally,” he said. “Those laws don’t change when the President comes to your state or locality.” But as commentator E.J. Dionne incisively observed at the time, Gibbs’s technical response missed the bigger point. “Gibbs made you think of the old line about the liberal who is so open- minded he can’t even take his own side in an argument. What needs to be addressed is not the legal question but the message that the gun-toters are sending.”
It was a “teachable moment.” But instead of using these events as an opportunity to speak out about “the message that the gun- toters are sending,” Gibbs’s meek response only validated their threatening actions, further empowering them. Americans must demand that such appeasement of the gun industry and extremist gun enthusiasts end.
Had the Obama White House seized the moment, they would have found that most Americans, even most gun owners, are not comfortable with whack jobs walking around public places openly carrying guns. More than that, Obama could have taken the high ground and pressed the issue forward, educating the nation about the even greater danger of the gun industry’s ruthless marketing system.