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November 18, 2013

On That Open Carry Parking Lot “Shooting”

(Note: I know the hive-mind dispensed with these photos early last week. Besides the current fomentation of the gun issue involving “open carry” and the fact you can always count on Hariman for a good read, however, what’s interesting is how Bob takes the twist and reveal in the media sequence and turns it around. Whereas the second round of stories, after the initial side view photo circulated, sorted out the mischaracterization of the group portrait, Hariman takes the unique step of addressing the photos in their logical order. In the process, Bob frames the larger danger as well as how it informs “the perceptual ambush.” This story, by the way, also thematically coincides with the San Antonio open carry rally photographer Nina Berman documented at BagNews Originals last week. — Michael Shaw)

Molly Ivins, where are you when we need you?  I’ve got to think Texas’s own progressive columnist would have loved to sink her teeth into this story.

It seems that a local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was meeting in a suburban Dallas restaurant.  But before we go any further, I’ve gotta say that MDAGSA is not exactly a snappy acronym, and the name itself is no better.  Maybe people weren’t thinking about name ID when they formed the organization in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.  Still, a strategic element is missing, which, as we shall see, is not limited to MDAGSA.

OK, where were we?  Oh, yeah, the meeting.  And then one of the moms looked up and saw people walking around outside carrying long rifles, including AR-15s and Ak-47s.  They had no reason to be worried, as those carrying the guns were law abiding citizens peacefully exercising their gun rights, but since the women were liberals, they of course felt threatened.  According to the New York Times report of the story: “I was terrified,” said one who was so scared she wouldn’t even give her name.  “They didn’t want to talk.  They wanted to display force.”

Which is just what the president and founder of Open Carry Texas expected to hear: “No matter what we do, they’re going to label us intimidating.  It doesn’t matter how we carry, where we carry.”  And there you have a perfectly good and all too typical example of how advocates on both sides of this contentious debate talk right past one another.  Guns are in fact differentially intimidating, and so those who are more scared are less likely to make distinctions that appear self-evident to those within a gun culture, who then are insufficiently empathetic.  And so it goes: liberals are then likely to reify gun violence in the gun–a claim countered by the bumper sticker that says that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”–while conservatives sneakily try to have it both ways–claiming both that guns will scare hardened criminals, terrorists, and tyrants, and that ordinary, unarmed citizens have no reason to be afraid of the armed strangers in their midst.

Which is why the photograph above is so interesting.  Open Carry Texas has a weekly gun walk, apparently to show citizens that they have nothing to be afraid of.  They decided to double the payoff for their weekly walk by staging a brief protest at the MDAGSA meeting.  The photo is obviously posed, and it would seem to be at once completely conventional and strategic.  It’s conventional because, other than for the guns, it conforms completely to the social and visual conventions of the social event group photo.  This is exactly what you would see at the family reunion or neighborhood Fourth of July picnic.

It’s strategic because by including the guns along with the ordinary guys, gals, kids, and smiles all around, the Open Carry message is communicated perfectly:  See, we’re just ordinary folks, wouldn’t hurt a flea, just like you.  Think of us as hobbyists, not as a horrible accident waiting to happen.  Frankly, most gun owners are just ordinary folks, and until liberals figure out a way to accept and acknowledge that fact, they aren’t going to get very far with gun control.  Even so, the argument doesn’t carry much weight (or ammo, if you will).  Open Carry might think of it this way: I’ll accept the claim that you should be allowed to do as you please because you are ordinary folks, if you grant the same to the jihadists, beastiality buffs, and other groups that make the same argument.  Until then, we need to talk about the difference from ordinary conduct, not all the other, irrelevant similarities.

And the difference in this case is that they are carrying very dangerous weapons, and doing so to advertise the right to fire those weapons in public if suitably threatened.  (Why else should the public accept the risk, if not to prevent or respond to violence?)  So there actually is something a bit odd about the first photograph after all.  It may not be as threatening as the MDAGSA member said, but it does invite questions: are they a force to be reckoned with, or not?  If not, why accept the risk that comes from accident?  If they are, then is the flag waving and kid posing just an act?

Which brings us to a second photo that was included with the Times story.  A photo that I think is a brilliant example of strategic representation.

Here’s the same group shot from the side.  And I do mean “shot,” for now we are seeing their exposed flank. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help seeing this point of view as a targeting, and exactly the angle that a real enemy would take.  More to the point, we can see how the potential for violence invites a greater potential for violence.  Guns not only give fire, they draw fire; something that Open Carry may not have considered fully.  And if their spokesperson were to reply that they actually engage in military training and can operate as an armed band, I suspect that they would find out in a hurry that even the state of Texas doesn’t smile on militias other than its own.  In any case, paramilitary organization would make that first photo even more suspect.  But this photo does more than comment on the first one.

I think the most important point here is how those with guns are still all too vulnerable, still flesh and blood individuals who could be easily caught unawares and cut down in an instant.  Don’t think they don’t know as much, for that is one reason they are willing to pay for something that will give them a sense of security; who among us has never done that?  They may forget just how vulnerable they are, however, not least by having a gun in the house and by being around others in public whose gun management skills may not be top-tier.  And maybe it’s just me, but I’d like to think that if everyone involved in this controversy could acknowledge their common vulnerability, perhaps a small but sure step could be taken toward a more sensible gun policy.

As with guns, photographs can have unexpected consequences.  It’s one thing for advocates to use visual displays strategically, but it’s quite another to be able to control all of the imagery.  In posing for one photo, Open Carry Texas set itself up to be ambushed by another.  Fortunately, anyone can carry a camera.

– Robert Hariman

(cross-posted from No Caption Needed)

(photos: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, taken last Saturday from inside a Dallas-area restaurant.)

  • FoolsGold

    Decades ago a young man with a brain tumor starting shooting from The Texas Tower. As a passing armored car was pressed into service as an ambulance dozens of passers-by stood out in the open and provided volley after volley of suppression fire from their hunting rifles. Although it was a police officer and a bookstore clerk who were the ones who made it to the top of the tower and did what had to be done, it was the dozens of ordinary passersby who took hunting rifles out of their cars and provided sufficient distractions to the crazed gunman.

    • Stan B.

      Strange, I well remember that as a child- decades ago. That strange abhorrent anomaly. What I remember less clearly are the more recent spate of mass shootings. Hundreds upon hundreds of shootings due to the tsunami of high powered guns that have entered the market since. Mind numbing statistics and the bodies of children and innocents now litter our streets with regular, almost predictable frequency.

      Yes, I know- if we only had more guns we’d be all the more safer, and the killing would stop overnight…

    • bks3bks

      Baloney. Passersby played almost no role in this incident, other than to be among the 41 victims. There is no mention of these heroic passersby in, for example, the account of the Texas State Historical Association:


  • black_dog_barking

    The Open Carry organization also has the freedom to openly carry proof of insurance for their preferred security device. Then they would have proof that in the event of some unforeseen event, say, a loved one stealing their security device and using it to kill them and a couple of dozen school kids, that the Open Carry advocate was responsible in his/her ownership and resources are available to do some kind of fix up to what is becoming a depressingly regular event.

    • Tom Harvey

      I glad to see you recognize that not only is there the risk that a ‘good guy’ will turn out to be a ‘bad guy’ but that the ‘good guys’ are the suppliers of guns the the obviously ‘bad guys.’

  • bystander

    “…claiming both that guns will scare hardened criminals, terrorists, and tyrants, and that ordinary, unarmed citizens have no reason to be afraid of the armed strangers in their midst.”

    Does anyone else hear an echo of, “All this surveillance is necessary to keep you safe.” and “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” in the open carry logic Hariman makes plain?

    Why is it always assumed that the “good guys” are self-evident, and even if they aren’t, the mechanism for detecting and deterring them contributes nothing to the vulnerabilities of the population as a whole [1]?


    • aSouthernMan

      Why do you consider our own government normal now? WIth the stroke of an AutoPen, Obama has lept waaayyy out in front of Bush in allowing the detaining of any US citizen without warrant, and the fact that every phone call (data and voice) is digitally collected along with email and posts to this site. Not that this site is a big deal, but its just more data. Keep it long enough, and maybe it can be used to suppress ideas that are contrary to the goal? It is not assumed ‘Good Guys’ are self-evident – you can thank our press and Bagnews liberals for that.
      Lies no longer exist for the Dems – just saved for the Conservative values. You want to stop lunatic surveillance?? Try your own Driver’s License Bureau – most take your Facial Recog photo scan and don’t tell you – thanks to Bush and Obama. That means any camera can ID you, as you pass by a store, as you legally pass through an intersection – as you sue your cell phone and it’s location.
      So stop the wining about surveillance already – if you really care, read up on “Real-ID”

  • bks3bks

    Eighteen whackjobs pose for a picture and this is supposed to mean what exactly? Am I supposed to believe that these bozos are carrying those rifles into work with them, around the supermarket and to Thanksgiving dinner? No way.


    • Stan B.

      The question is- Why are thousands of whackjobs allowed to carry guns anywhere!?!?

  • Gary Griffiths

    I honestly wondered at first if this wasn’t a false-flag operation by some closet anti’s, but it seems that these clowns fall more into the “useful idiots” category in promoting gun control.

  • aSouthernMan

    It is 18-Nov, Why is it that Bagnews is NOT looking into the Obamacare fiasco?
    Or the Libyan Embassy Lies ?
    Or the IRS Lies?
    Instead you chase guns, Tea Party, Cruz – anything but the damning of Liberal ideas that failed – not only failed – but failed with LIES. And the Treasury has spent another 1 Trillion of your tax payer money in last month to keep things afloat – is this insane or what?? But keep going with the focus on Tea Party, Gun rights, or anything else non-Obama. What a great thing to stay away from reality. There are Liberals and Conservatives working together in the Philippines to help the helpless. But here – the Liberals ATTACK the Conservatives, as if their ideas are wrong. Wrong is when you try to make a story go the way you want – despite the facts. Bagnews is doing the same thing as MSNBC, but using pictures. Where are the buffoon pics of Obama? And the hero pics of gun owners STOPPING violence? Or the illegal hoodlum’s that use guns to kill or intimidate their victims? They are in other publications like the French Goverment warnings of places to stay away from. They are not in Bagnews, because that would not be explainable.

    • glennisw

      Because BagNews looks at photos and images, idiot. Go troll World Nut News if you want yellow journalism to reinforce your own bias.

    • ScooterLiddy

      Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!

  • aSouthernMan

    Hey – since Bagnews cannot find anything good about resposible Gun Owners,how about how about a Law Enforcement story, where Police unloaded into a minivan with kids??
    Or is it just people without a badge that you despise? Maybe our President will circumvent legislative process once again to eliminate all firearms from LEO’s and the military as well.. Did you know that the Marine barracks at the Naval Shipyard shooting could have stopped the nut with the shotgun – but they only had guns – NO bullets – thanks to Pres Clinton. So they ran, even though they were trained. This is not a simple position that Bagnews fosters – it is very very important to be able to discuss with all the facts – not just the Liberal version.

    • glennisw

      Get your own blog. It’s free.

  • Jerry

    One of these days I’d like to organize my own little event. I’d get a group of friends and we’d go to some public place and hang out, openly carrying the following totally legal and commonly available items:

    1. A chainsaw,
    2. Can of gasoline,
    3. An axe,
    4. Length of log chain,
    5. A scythe,
    6. A baseball bat,
    7. A tire iron,
    8. A jug of muriatic acid, and
    9. A length of steel pipe.

    When asked to disperse, we’d point out that the gun people can carry their legal items around without being harassed. We should be able to also.

    • aSouthernMan

      The ‘gun’ people ? Unlike yourself, who believes in what ?

  • aSouthernMan

    Depends on how you define a whackjob. You sound like one,
    insulting someone because they own a gun or have a carry-permit.
    Or were you referring to the Police, or Military? Does it matter?

  • aSouthernMan

    Here an image set for you, lest you forget.
    Stevens, 52, died as he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as a crowd of hundreds attacked the consulate Tuesday evening, many of them firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
    By the end of the assault, much of the building was burned out and trashed. Stevens was the first US ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979.

  • Stan B.

    A whackjob is somebody so desperate about guns that they respond to a 7 day old comment.

  • Jerry

    Obviously, that my merry band of hardware store customers have the right to assemble and brandish their legal items in any public place, whether it be a bar, the subway, a church, a daycare center, a Starbucks, or at a shopping mall where the kiddies are lined up to sit in Santa’s lap.

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