I just spoke with Kory Watkins, the man who organized the controversial Open Carry Texas protest that I’ve been documenting here and here. As I noted earlier, some members of Open Carry Texas were claiming on Facebook and on the Bearing Arms blog that they had interacted with Moms Demand Action at a protest in Dallas, thus diminishing MDA’s claim that it was so intimidated by their presence that they had to hide out in a nearby restaurant. An hour ago, MDA’s spokeswoman. Shannon Watts, told me that her group flatly denied that this was the case, and implied that, because Open Carry Texas’s members were bearing arms with intent to intimidate, their openly carrying rifles was illegal in Texas.
The question therefore was, “Who is telling the truth?”
Kory Watkins shed some light on this for me over the phone. “We were just out there peacefully assembling,” Watkins told me. “We walked down the street, away from where they were, and took a couple of pictures. People were pulling over and honking and all that good stuff. When we were in the parking lot, one of them called us an ‘asshole’ but that was it.” I asked him whether they interacted with Moms Demand Action at all. “One woman did come over,” Watkins told me, “and she didn’t say anything other than ‘can I get a picture?’ I could tell she was nervous because her hand was shaking, and usually when people are supporting us they don’t come up all nervous. I asked her if she had a gun and she said ‘no.’ I tried to start talking to her about the Second Amendment but she didn’t really say much. We got in the formation to take a picture for her. I said to my friend, ‘this is probably Moms Demand Action taking a picture, I just want you to know.’ But we didn’t care. It’s not a big deal. We don’t mind the pictures no matter where they come from. She took a couple pictures.”
I asked Watkins if he knew “for a fact” that she was from Moms Demand Action? ”I don’t know if she was or not,” he told me,” but the pictures that were taken from the camera that the lady used are the ones that Moms Demand Action are using on their website. So I’d assume that this would be one of their people. The one they have from the side is from inside the Blue Mesa Grille. The one from the front, well, we took a couple of pictures with our cameras and then that random lady who came out of the restaurant — and went back in — she also took pictures of us from the front.”
So, there you have it. It is possible that Moms Demand Action is lying, and the women was in fact from their group. It’s possible that Moms Demand Action isn’t lying, and the woman was just somebody else who is sympathetic to the group and who shared the photos when she returned to the restaurant. It’s possible that Moms Demand Action doesn’t know that one of their members spoke to the group. It’s also clear how some of the Open Carry Texas members who attended might have thought that they’d interacted with MDA. All told, I’m sticking with my initial instinct. I don’t know at what point the open carrying of rifles at a counter-protest becomes “intimidation,” but I do know that getting close to that line is not a sensible or civil thing to do and that it is unlikely to win one any friends. This doesn’t excuse the lies that ThinkProgress and Rick Ungar told earlier today, but it does mean that Second Amendment advocates might think more carefully about the tactics they use. Even if the group was within its legal rights, which remains an open question, it was not particularly smart here. For some reason, the media has it in its collective head that gun owners are violent and irresponsible. Gun owners should avoid giving them any excuse to pretend that it’s true.
UPDATE: Shannon Watts told me on the phone that her outfit got the photos they posted on Twitter “from social media” and not from anyone inside the restaurant. She explained that she wants them prosecuted but that, despite her best efforts, Arlington police will not be prosecuting because MDA’s contact, Officer Burns (who is female, I’m told), does not believe that the group’s protesting with guns counts as “intimidation” in this case. Watts also told me that the women inside the restaurant were scared because Open Carry Texas is “like the Taliban” and could feasibly have planned to open fire.