The sudden appearance of about 40 armed men outside a Dallas-area restaurant this weekend was the latest confrontation between an open-carry gun-rights group and a mothers group advocating gun control that was meeting inside.
Police monitored the incident at the Blue Mesa Grill in Arlington, Texas, but took no action because it is legal to carry long guns openly in Texas.
"We are aware that a group did gather in a shopping area in Arlington Saturday," Tiara Ellis Richard of the Arlington Police office of communication said in an e-mail to USA TODAY. "Officers were notified and arrived at the location. There were no issues that we are aware of, and no arrests occurred."
One of four women who were meeting Saturday tried to file a police complaint on Monday but failed because she was told that no law had been violated, a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense said Monday.
Shannon Watts, founder of the national gun control organization, said the mothers were holding a private meeting - not a rally - at the restaurant. She founded her group in the wake of the killings in Newtown, Conn.
Watts, whose organization is based in Indianapolis, said she was not at the restaurant at the time but was speaking on behalf of the four mothers, including a school teacher, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The Open Carry Texas (OCT) contingent, which included men, women and children, were armed with about two dozen semi-automatic rifles, which are classified as long guns in Texas and can be legally carried openly.
The two groups have been at odds since the mothers group successfully lobbied Starbucks to ban the open carrying of weapons in its coffee shops.
In April, a group of armed men also showed up at an MDA gun-control rally in Indianapolis, Watts said.
"We were surrounded by armed men, including some openly carrying loaded semi-automatic rifles," Watts said. "Many of our moms had children with them. Unfortunately this is not a unique situation - it's happened in many states, including Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, Michigan and now Texas. If open carry is allowed, our rallies are often attended by armed protesters."
In the Arlington incident, Watts said, the OCT apparently learned of the meeting through Facebook.
"They (the mothers) were sitting in the restaurant and all of a sudden saw cars pull up and these people were getting out of cars and pulling semi-automatic rifles out of their trunks," Watts said.
Kory Watkins, who organized the protests, told National Review's Charles C. W. Cooke that "we were just out there peacefully assembling."
"We walked down the street, away from where they were, and took a couple of pictures," he said. "People were pulling over and honking and all that good stuff. When we were in the parking lot, one of them called us an (expletive) but that was it."
Watts said the patrons of the Blue Mesa Grill were "terrified."
"They felt like in an armed ambush and had no idea why it was taking place," Watts said. She said one mom went from table to table "to explain what was going on."
Open Carry Texas posted a photo taken by a mothers gun-control group, added their own group photo and included a caption stressing that they were peacefully "posing for a photo," not harassing anyone.
(Photo: Open Carry Texas)
Chris Barton, the CFO of Blue Mesa Grill, said that the manager called 911 at 11:35 a.m., shortly after the armed group arrived.
"When the manager called, he told them (the police dispatcher) what was going on," Barton said. "They said that if they are having a peaceful demonstration, they are within their legal rights."
He said the police did arrive as the group was leaving the restaurant area to walk to a nearby Hooters.
Watts said, however, that police told them on Monday that officers were already on the scene, keeping an eye on the incident.
The mothers group posted a photo online of the armed men outside the restaurant.
Open Carry Texas, however, reposted the same photo, added their own photo that was taken around the same time and included a message:
Many anti-gun groups have been posting this picture on their pages accusing these peaceful protesters of bullying and harassing members at their anti-gun rally. From this point of view, it looks like the gun owners are ready to confront someone. In reality, the peaceful gun owners were posing for a photo. Both pictures were taken at the same time, but one is good for anti-gun PR. Don't trust anything you see from the anti-gun pages.
Open Carry Texas says on its Facebook page that its purpose is to educate Texans about their right to openly carry rifles and shotguns in a safe manner and to "condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry them."
It also seeks to pass less-restrictive open-carry laws, especially pistols, which cannot be openly carried legally in Texas, and to foster a cooperative relationship with police "with an eye towards preventing negative encounters."
Kellye Bowman, a Houston activist with Moms Demand for Action, said her group is "enemy No. 1" to the open-carry groups.
She said the incident in Arlington was "to confront" and that "there was no mistake what their intent was."
Bowman said the Open Carry Texas group has been very high profile in recent months, including holding an unprecedented rally in front of the Alamo.
On Sunday, an open-carry group walked through a residential area of Kennedale, Texas, near Arlington, videotaping their interaction with a police officer. The group then posted the incident on YouTube, including their contention that they are not obliged to give their ID to police.