There are a lot of takeaways from Starbucks’ reversal of it’s policy to tolerate people following state law on guns. I want to make clear that while this post speaks about open carry, I am not advocating against open carry generally. Someone open carrying to Â get coffee in Tombstone, Albuquerque, or any of the other local cultures where OC is accepted, isn’t part of this issue, because open carry is just what they do. I’m not even advocating against using open carry as a political tool in all circumstances. The problem is that people who open carry need to understand open carry is a tactic, and not a strategy. Open carry is not the core problem, the problem is how some people are utilizing it.Â So what are the takeaways from this latest development with Starbucks?
When You’ve Won, Stop Playing
Quit while you’re ahead. If you stay at the table to keep playing, you risk losing everything you’ve won. We had the antis beat on the Starbucks issue several years ago, but all it took was a little poke by the other side, and our side swarmed in and kept trying to make Starbucks own us. It started after the second Starbucks Appreciation Day, Â when everyone posted pictures of their guns along with Starbucks brand, and only got worse from there. Much worse.
Activism Without Political Understanding is Dangerous
There are about 80 to 100 million gun owners in a country of 300 million. Gun owners are a minority, even if Â close to 80% of the population supports some vague, ill defined idea about the people having a right to keep and bear arms. People who are politically involved in the issue, that is people willing to vote the gun issue, are a minority of that minority. The reason we win is because we can often swing elections at the margins, and there are a lot of Democratic gun owners who love their guns, hate their party’s position favoring gun control (just ask Angela Giron), and are willing to cross the aisle if they get pissed off enough. But it is dangerous to forget we are a special interest, and one that represents maybe 3-5% of voters in any given election. Everything we’ve built in the past several decades rests upon the acquiescence of that majority of citizens who don’t have a dog (or gun) in this fight. Anything you do to antagonize that majority is detrimental. Starbucks ultimately took this action because that majority are their customers, and they don’t want gun rights to be part of their branding. This is an entirely sensible and understandable decision on their part of a company who just makes coffee. They were happy to live and let live, but then we kept re-inserting them into it, and trying to make their brand ours.
Open Carry is a Tactic, Not a Strategy, Nor a Goal
The problem with failing to understand the difference is that when people become narrowly focused on a particular tactic, they will shoehorn it into a strategy to achieve a goal where other tactics would be smarter. Virginia used to ban concealed carry in restaurants, but not open carry. So a lot of people decided to start open carrying in restaurants to highlight the absurdity of the law. Virginia changed it’s law. In that case the tactic worked for achieving the goal. It fit in with the strategy. That was not the case for California, and that was obvious to anyone who understood the political climate there (which takes us back to the previous point on political understanding). There was no reality where open carry activism was going to accomplish anything other than convincing the California legislature to crack down on what little rights Californians had left in regards to carry. On the other side of the coin, Florida disallows open carry except for a single, narrow circumstance, so using open carry as a tactic to point out the absurdity of the law can support the overall strategy to achieve the goal of legalizing open carry in Florida.
The Open Carry Movement has to Discipline Itself if it Wants Respect
What is the goal of open carry activism? How are open carry activists going to achieve their goals? If there is a better way to achieve that goal other than open carry, will they embrace it? Will they embrace it even if it means not open carrying at certain times or in certain places? If the answer to that last question is no, what does it say about how serious you are about achieving your goals? If you think open carry is the hammer to the nail of every problem the gun rights movement faces, you need to go back and think about the section on political understanding.
Open Carry Organizing is not Normalizing
What normalizes open carry is doing it with as little fuss as you can get away with.Â If you have to organize it, it’s not normalizing anything. If the primary focus of what you’re doing is your gun, it’s likewise not normalizing anything. For example, if you have five friends who love open carrying, and you go to dinner because you’re friends, the primary focus is on your friendship. The guns are just secondary. If you plan to go to dinner with the same five friends because “Hey, no one’s ever done an OC dinner at Bob’s Slophouse,” that’s not normal, and you have to consider whether your tactic fits with your overall strategy in achieving your goals. By the same token, if your reaction to a negative law enforcement encounter is “I can’t wait to share this with all my friends on the Internet,” rather than “I can’t wait to share this with my attorney,” you might want to rethink what’s really motivating you. The Starbucks Open Carry events did nothing to normalize gun carry. By definition, it made it a big spectacle that people would not normally see. If you want to normalize something, you ease people into it in such a way they don’t really even notice it.
A decade ago, you would have crossed the street if you noticed someone yammering to themselves without a phone in their hand. I know I did a double take the first time I saw someone in an elevator talking on a bluetooth earpiece. Now it’s so common no one gives it a second thought. It’s just something that slowly crept into our cultural understanding without anyone making an organized push. That’s really how it has to work with anything. If you push something on people too hard and too fast, that almost subliminal understanding never has the opportunity to take hold and people may react with hostility to the new idea.
Whether folks want to accept it or not, when you’re advocating for political change, you have to care what other people think of you, and how other people perceive you. Embracing a tactic because you find it satisfying without really thinking through to the larger picture is a common but very dangerous pitfall when it comes to advocating for political or social change.Â The goal and the strategy need to take precedence over enjoying the tactics. The problem with many open carry activists is that they have a lot of fun with their tactic, hardly bother thinking about strategy, and prefer fun to accomplishing goals. I don’t really blame them. But often the smart and effective tactics in social and political change are tedious and un-fun. Ideally there’s a way to use a fun tactic and accomplish your goal, but if you can’t have both, you have to be willing to do the tedious work if you want to win. Ask the organizers of the Colorado recall if they are champing at the bit to do that again? Doubtful. They did something that was tedious because it had to be done, and they had effective tactics supporting their strategy of getting Giron and Morse out. Those folks have done more to protect gun rights than all the open carry organizing put together, and I guarantee you it wasn’t fun for them, it was necessary.