HOUSTON (USA TODAY) -- The National Rifle Association has rolled back an earlier statement criticizing "open carry" rallies in Texas in which gun rights advocates have brought military-style assault rifles into public places.
Chris Cox, the head of the lobbying arm, backed away Tuesday from what he called a staff member's "personal opinion" that openly carrying long guns was "weird or somehow not normal...crossing the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness." He reiterated the NRA's support for open or concealed carry, and said gun owners have "a right to carry a firearm in any place they have a legal right to be."
Cox's reversal comes after OCT said in its posting on Facebook Monday that the NRA's position is turning off many of its members.
"Already, OCT members are posting pictures of themselves cutting up their (NRA) life membership cards," the website says. "If they do not retract their disgusting and disrespectful comments, OCT will have no choice but to withdraw its full support of the NRA and establish relationships with other gun rights organizations that fight for ALL gun rights, instead of just paying them lip service the way the NRA appears to be doing."
"It is unfortunate that an organization that claims to be dedicated to the preservation of gun rights would attack another organization fighting so hard for those rights in Texas," OCT said Monday.
The NRA is backing away from a previous statement that discouraged members from openly carrying semi-automatic weapons in restaurants.
Tov Henderson, an Open Carry member, told WFAA-TV in Dallas Tuesday that the NRA's clarification was refreshing.
"Getting the clarification from them that it wasn't an official stance and that it was just a low-level employee ... it makes sense," Henderson said.
The statement from the NRA last week criticizing OCT's campaign also said such demonstrations "using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners."
"Let's not mince words, not only is it rare, it's downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself," said the statement, which also addressed "smart" guns. "To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one's cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates."
"That's not the Texas way. And that's certainly not the NRA way," the OCT statement said.
OCT, which has branches in 40 Texas counties and in major cities, says it is dedicated to the "safe and legal carry of firearms openly" in Texas in accordance with federal and state laws.
Texas has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, but openly carrying handguns remains illegal. Long guns like rifles can be carried openly but must be done so in a way that does not cause alarm. But gun holders can be charged with disorderly conduct if anyone around them feels threatened.
It also stresses that it wants to "condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry them."
The open carry rallies in restaurants and other businesses — part of a push for less restrictive gun laws, including legalizing the open carry of handguns — have prompted public criticism.
Recent demonstrations by OCT at restaurants in the Dallas and San Antonio areas sparked a petition drive by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America that led Chipotle to call on its customers keep their guns at home. Starbucks, Jack in the Box, Sonic Brands and Dallas-based Brinker International, which own's Chili's, have issued similar statements.
Jack in the Box said the presence of guns inside a restaurant "could create an uncomfortable situation for our guests and employees and lead to unintended consequences."
In applauding such moves, Shannon Watts, founder of the Moms group, said "American businesses and restaurants should not wait for open carry extremists to demonstrate in their establishments – now is the time to stand up for the safety of employees and customers."
Contributing: Associated Press