This should've been one of the biggest domestic news stories of the weekend, but as a sense of futility sweeps nation in the face of increasingly commonplace incidents of gun violence followed by aggressive, defiant reactions from the gun lobby, it went sadly ignored.
A gun control activist group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, or MDA for short, held a membership meeting at the Blue Mesa Grill in Dallas, Texas on Saturday. Not a protest or a public rally, just a meeting over some Tex-Mex and beverages.
Harmless enough. A group of moms, activated by last year's gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, gathered to discuss ways to boost membership and popular support for gun control legislation. The group's goals are standard fare:
Require background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases;
Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds;
Track the sale of large quantities of ammunition, and ban online sales;
Establish product safety oversight of guns and ammunition, and require child-safe gun technology;
Support policies at companies and public institutions that promote gun safety;
Counter the gun industry’s efforts to weaken gun laws at the state level.
There's nothing particularly radical about this agenda. However, MDA and other gun control activists are up against deeply entrenched extremists fueled by a bottomless treasure chest of cash, and any gun control legislation is perceived as a radical trespass against the Constitution, even laws like expanded background checks that are supported by 80 percent of Americans. And so, right on cue, a company of pro-gun extremists appeared outside the Blue Mesa Grill to counter-protest a non-protest lunch meeting, and they did so in the most over-the-top, aggressive way possible.
40 armed gunmen representing the pro-gun group Open Carry Texas (OCT) gathered in the parking lot of the restaurant -- fully armed, with some of the gunmen crouched as if in a line of battle. Among other things, OCT believes Texas law is too restrictive against gun owners, forbidding open carry. Yes, Texas is too liberal for OCT.
Oh, and did I mention there were only four MDA members in the meeting? Yes, four moms who were gathered at a luncheon were confronted by 40 gunmen brandishing AR-style assault rifles.
According to Esther Yu-Hsi Lee at ThinkProgress, the MDA members and other restaurant patrons were afraid to step outside -- "terrified by what appeared to be an armed ambush." The manager of the restaurant didn't alert the authorities out of fear of inciting the OCT goons. And, naturally, that was the goal of the group -- to frighten and intimidate the moms and anyone aiding their endeavors.
There's a familiar and obvious word for this reprehensible behavior: terrorism.
No one's denying that there ought to be a debate about the Second Amendment in which all sides should have a part. But this goes beyond a debate into armed thuggery and, yes, terrorism in an age when gunmen carrying semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons have routinely entered public places and killed a lot of innocent people.
The OCT gunmen knew this, and they used it to their advantage. It doesn't matter whether the firearms were loaded or whether the gunmen, deep down, intended to use them. If you see a firing line of unhinged yokels without badges or credentials, brandishing firearms held in what's known as the "low ready" position, it's reasonable to assume the guns are loaded and one of these potentially disturbed, very misled freaks might snap and actually pull the trigger -- especially if you know they've gathered on account of your specific presence. Toss into the mix a lot of blustery talk in the media and online about armed revolution and other violent rhetoric, and anything can happen.
There's no other reason to do it. The goal is clearly to scare the pants off four moms at lunch. The message: keep doing what you're doing and we'll have no choice but to defend ourselves by, you know, shooting you. Indeed, after the MDA issued a statement referring to the OCT gunmen as "bullies," a member of the OCT tweeted a response containing the hashtag #Comeandtakeit. The unspoken portion of the hashtag is "...andwewillshootyou." All of this in the name of retaining the constitutional right to own a retail product.
It doesn't matter if it's a large-scale rally at the National Mall or a small scale lunch with four activists, pro-gun groups want gun control supporters to know that deadly force can and will be used if anyone tries to so much as sneeze in the direction of a gun control law -- even laws as innocuous as calling for better child safety technology or increased gun safety. The only hope for overcoming the extremists is to continue to act in defiance of their threats and, ironically enough, hope they continue to self-marginalize. But before that happens, we have to actually believe that it's possible to achieve something, anything, on this issue, no matter how minor.