There’s a story bouncing around the internet lately which I think sums up the attitude of many towards gun owners: “Go sit at another lunch counter, we don’t like your kind in here.” In this incident, three men were charged with disorderly conduct while legally open carrying rifles at a San Antonio Starbucks. On one hand, I think these types of open carry “demonstrations” harm our cause, as they frighten and inflame people who might otherwise support us. But on the other hand, I find the treatment these men received to be just as bigoted as some of the treatment of blacks before the civil rights movement.
I often remind my concealed carry students that, “just because it’s legal doesn’t make it the right thing to do.” We should also remember the reverse, “just because it’s illegal doesn’t make it wrong.” The patchwork of state and local laws known collectively as “Jim Crow laws,” made illegal all sorts of otherwise legal conduct…when practiced by blacks.
Are these signs really any different?
The men in Texas were not charged with weapons offenses, nor with any sort of violent or aggressive behavior, but with “disorderly conduct.” Of course, if you read Texas law you will see that the relevant statute permits a charge of disorderly conduct if the offender, “displays a firearm or other deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm.” Never mind that Texas law also permits carrying firearms in the manner that the men in Texas did…but this otherwise legal conduct can get you charged with a crime if it bothers someone else.
The men in Texas were essentially charged with the crime of making someone else feel uncomfortable. If this is the only bar that must be cleared in order for a law to be acceptable, then what was wrong with a Jim Crow law requiring “those people” to go eat their lunch somewhere else?
You might say, “Hold on a second, Dave! That’s not the same. People with guns can be dangerous!” Sure. But the vast majority are not, just like the vast majority of black people are not dangerous. Yet the law allowed them to be banned from many public places due to unfounded fears of the ignorant…just like legal gun owners are banned today.
You might go on to say, “Dave, that isn’t a fair comparison at all. You can choose whether or not to carry a gun. A black person can’t choose to not be black.” That is true. Then how about refusing service to Christians? Jews? Muslims? Those are all choices as well…and just like the freedom to choose your religion, in this country you are also free to choose to go armed. Should exercise of any of these rights mean that you can’t go certain places, simply because it makes someone uncomfortable?
To go armed is just as much a civil right as the right to sit anywhere on the bus you like. Rosa Parks could have chosen to just sit at the back of the bus, couldn’t she? No one said she couldn’t ride the bus, they just asked her to sit somewhere else. But we all agree that it was an infringement on her right to ride the bus, despite the fact that it was the law in Montgomery, Alabama that she sit in the back. It was the law. And the law was wrong.
How is it less of an infringement to say that you can bear arms if you like, just do it at the back of the bus? A civil right is a civil right.