NRA official: Shaming open-carry Texas gun groups was "a mistake"

Updated 1:45 p.m. ET

The National Rifle Association's appeal to Texas groups to dial back their practices of wielding assault weapons in local businesses was "a mistake," a top official in the powerhouse's lobbying arm said Tuesday, turning an about-face from what some saw as a politically savvy step toward the middle in the hot-button debate over gun rights.

"An alert went out that referred to this type of behavior as 'weird' or somehow not normal," Chris Cox, executive director of NRA policy, said during an interview on the organization's website. "It shouldn't have happened, and I've had a discussion with the staffer who wrote that piece and expressed his personal opinion. And our job isn't to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners.

Responding to demonstrations by open-carry supporters in the Lone Star State that involved patronizing stores like Sonic, Chili's, and Starbucks with AK-47s and other semi-automatics strapped to their persons, the NRA on Friday issued a statement reprimanding the "downright scary" behavior of an "attention-hungry few." Taking protests to such extremes, the NRA wrote in an unsigned post, "makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates."

"It's a rare sight to see someone sidled up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slug across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms," the NRA said in its statement. "It's downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself."

Texas law permits unlicensed rifles, though not handguns, to be carried on display in public. Cox called the post from the NRA a "distraction" from the organization's efforts to expand the law to include handguns and that the tiff has devolved into nothing more than a "field day" for the media.

C.J. Grisham, president of "Open Carry Texas" - perhaps the most prominent of the rifle-toting bands - told CBS News the statement was not only distracting, but blindsiding, considering his group made the decision "weeks ago" to stop brandishing their weapons in public establishments. He said the group had notified NRA board member Charles Cotton of their policy change, but the other members are "apparently not talking to each other, or they just didn't care."

"We found the NRA statement extremely disrespectful and unwarranted, because it was criticizing something we no longer do," he said. He discredited a story the Wall Street Journal posted Tuesday claiming open-carry activists were "moving into" Target stores: "The photos they used were from March," he said.

Pro-Second Amendment advocates have kept up their demonstrations outside the walls of businesses, such as at this weekend's rally in a Home Depot parking lot. But while Grisham notes his group always asked permission before carrying their firearms into stores and had been met with a swell of support from local businesses in particular, he decided the brazen protest technique was ultimately "distracting from our mission."

"Our mission is to get to open-carry policy for handguns," Grisham said. "Extremists were changing the dialogue to whether we should even be allowed to carry long guns. So we decided, 'Let's get back on track, let's stop doing it.'"

Grisham said he hopes the NRA will go further in its apology because it "alienated thousands of our members." He added he's already followed through with his threat to tear up his NRA card and will cease paying membership dues.

"On a personal level, as an NRA member who's given thousands of dollars, I'm done; my family and I are just done with the NRA," he said. "That said, just because we're leaving doesn't mean we're hostile with the NRA. We can go it alone, but obviously we'd prefer to do it with them so we can work together toward our common goal."

Cox suggested Tuesday that might be an option, making the case that the hubbub has been entirely manufactured by what is merely a game of differing "tactics."

"Some people believe that the best way to effectuate that sort of policy change is in protest," Cox said. "And what they did in Texas is some people decided to protest the absurdity of the ban on concealed carry or on open carry of handguns by carrying their long guns openly - and legally.

"... What we have in Texas is somewhat unique, because it's a shared goal," he continued. "All of us believe that the limitation and the prohibition on openly carrying a handgun in Texas needs to be changed. We've been working on it for years; we're getting close to getting that law changed."

  • Lindsey Boerma On Twitter»

    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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