At least it's not a Starbucks.

You Can't Fight Racism With Guns

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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There is little that groups promoting gun regulation can do to improve on the efforts of their most visible opponents: open-carry activists. After all, what better way to highlight the inherent dangers of lax gun laws than to gather a bunch of disgruntled men carrying loaded guns in highly inappropriate places?

QuickTake Americans and Their Guns

While the National Rifle Association has been superbly skilled in the political arena, the forces it has helped unleash are less adept. Loitering outside a polling place on Election Day, displaying arms with your posse, is perhaps not the best way to show respect for free elections and constitutional government.

Open-carry advocates in Texas, meanwhile, keep ratcheting up the stakes and risking high-wire public relations disasters. After a string of recent defeats -- Chipotle, Starbucks, Target and other chains announced they'd prefer customers who leave their AR-15s at home -- Open Carry Texas has a new mission. The group has planned a march for August 16 through Houston's predominantly black Fifth Ward.

From OCT's blog:

"We are not going to be marching through 5th Ward," said OCT Founder CJ Grisham, "we're going to hopefully be marching with 5th Ward."

It gets better: "Open Carry Texas believes that Texas' gun laws continue to be rooted in racism."

What follows in the blog post is a discussion of the poverty rate among black Texans and the high cost ($250) of obtaining a concealed handgun license. Talk then moves to incarceration rates by race before wading into protests about "Jim Crow" and "racist and xenophobic gun laws."

This is new terrain for gun-rights activists -- at least white ones. In 1967, a group of Black Panthers raised alarms when they walked armed through the California state capitol in Sacramento to protest a gun control bill. The Panthers' militant display was credited with giving white conservatives a fresh perspective on the value of gun regulations.

OCT's outreach to a black neighborhood may give similar pause to its allies in the overwhelmingly white gun-rights movement. With or without gun-rights ideology, whites are twice as likely as blacks or Hispanics to own a gun, although they are far less likely to be a crime victim.

That racial and cultural divide is only one reason that residents of the Fifth Ward may find OCT's entreaty a bit strange. David Amad of the Houston branch of OCT told the Houston Press that the group is out to win friends and influence people. "If you go marching through the Fifth Ward like a bunch of stuffy old white boys carrying guns and spitting tobacco you'll get a bad response, but if you go in there talking to people like human beings and explain what you're doing, the response will be different," he said.

Thus far, however, OCT has not been known for the subtlety of its political radar. According to the Houston Press, "these are some of the same people who protested outside Sheila Jackson Lee's office last year, posting pictures of themselves eating fried chicken."

Lee is a prominent black congresswoman.

OCT seems to make up its agenda as it goes along. Fried chicken last year, racial outreach this year. Surprises abound. In June, OCT leader C.J. Grisham toldABC News that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, including "memories of the seven people he says he killed in combat." Grisham said PTSD should be no impediment to gun ownership. "We have to be careful not to paint with a broad brush," he told ABC News. In a twist on a phrase made famous by NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, he added, "The way to deal with a mentally disturbed person with a gun is a sane person with a gun."

That's probably not a message the NRA is eager to broadcast. But once you promote a world in which everyone everywhere is armed at all times, as the NRA has, that's pretty much where you end up. A mentally disturbed person with a gun? Sure. Why not?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net
Toby Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net