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No Panic Buttons for the Public: Why Open Carry Is Bad for America

02/13/2015 02:29 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015

It's official: the phrase "open carry" has entered the American lexicon. That's because gun extremists from Virginia to Washington to Texas and all across the country have started showing up in restaurants, state capitols, and other public places openly carrying loaded semiautomatic rifles. Occasionally donning kilts or gas masks and other attention-getting attire, these extremists look as though they are headed to battle instead of visiting their legislators or picking up milk at their local Kroger grocery store.

Why are we seeing these open carry displays more and more often? Because the radical rhetoric of the National Rifle Association's (NRA) leadership tells us that "the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." And that myth propels the idea that a loaded AK-47 is necessary when dining at Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, just in case you encounter a bad guy.

Thanks to the gun lobby's insidious and formerly unchecked influence in our state legislatures, open carry is legal in more than 40 states. And in a majority of those states, it's perfectly legal to open carry a long gun with absolutely no training, permitting, or even a minimum age requirement.

Add to that cocktail of crazy the fact that our lax federal gun laws allow criminals and other dangerous people to easily access firearms. Given that millions of guns each year are sold without a criminal background check, there is no way to know if a person who is openly carrying a semiautomatic rifle is a responsible gun owner, or if that person is a threat to moms and our children (and the gas masks don't help either).

Law enforcement leaders have come out in opposition to open carry because it forces them to ask questions that jeopardize their ability to ensure public safety, like "Does this person have a permit? Is he a felon?" And it's a drain on law enforcement resources as well. As this video posted by open carry extremists highlights, there is nothing normal about seeing men marching around carrying rifles; it causes genuine concern. Subsequently, when people call 9-1-1, a police officer must be dispatched and forced to deal with difficult open carry extremists.

In Texas, an open carry activist with an arrest record for interfering with police duties recently posted a video threatening Texas state legislators with death if they oppose legislation to legalize unlicensed open carry of handguns. These same gun extremists were responsible for forcing the Texas state legislature to install panic buttons in their chambers last month.

This extremism is dangerous and, not surprisingly, encouraged by NRA leaders given their support and continued push for open carry expansion. For decades, the NRA has attempted to normalize behaviors that are unsafe, and expanding open carry is simply an attempt by the gun lobby to make it acceptable for anyone to openly carry guns anywhere.

In Tennessee, the law allows permit holders to carry guns openly or concealed, but last year, the NRA sponsored legislation that would remove the permit requirement to open carry in Tennessee. This would have made it legal for stalkers and certain other criminals to openly carry loaded handguns in Tennessee, and it would be legal for anyone to openly carry a loaded gun without any gun safety training whatsoever.

But just like Rick Perry (someone I never thought I would cite as an example), who said this week that he was not "all that fond of this open carry concept," Moms are not willing to go down the NRA's slippery slope. We know that respecting the Second Amendment requires responsible gun ownership and practicing gun safety.

The safety of our children and families in our communities is paramount, and open carry is not a step in the right direction. We refuse to have to consider whether people who are open carrying around our children and families are members of law enforcement sworn to protect us, or if they are activists making a political statement, or dangerous criminals we should run from.

And while we wait for legislators to do their jobs instead of catering to extremists' tantrums and pass laws that protect people instead of gun lobby profits, we expect businesses to do their part. Simply following state and local laws is not enough. In states where no background check is required to buy a semiautomatic rifle and carry it openly in public, businesses have a duty to protect their employees and customers.

This is why Moms are asking retailers like Kroger and restaurants like Raising Cane's to prioritize customer and employee safety. And it's why we've worked with other restaurants and retailers like Chipotle, Sonic, Starbucks and Target to stand up to this extremist behavior and ask their customers to leave their firearms at home.

Open carry extremists have shined a bright light on the NRA's vision for the future of America, and it's not pretty. Moms won't let the concerted efforts by the gun lobby and open carry extremists to put our families and communities at risk go unchecked. With rights come responsibilities, and for the safety and security of our restaurants, state capitols, and other public places, we must push back on armed intimidation. After all, there are no panic buttons for the public.