Clearly, there wasn't an objective need to shoot someone with an unloaded air gun. At the same time, it's stupid (though not normally fatally stupid) to be capering about a store with a gun that looks real. I kind of have to wonder, too, how much effort this stupidity took. Having bought air rifles before, I can tell you that the Crosman MK-177 air pump rifle that Crawford was carrying when he was killed should have been in a cardboard box. They are not sold loose, though occasionally stores will have an un-packaged one on display in a case which customers can ask to see and handle. Perhaps such a case was left open and unattended, allowing Crawford to pick up the loose gun and move around with it (prompting the 911 call) but at a minimum this is a tragedy that didn't simply result from someone carrying a piece of merchandise to the checkout register.
Be that as it may, it's not actually similar to what open carry protesters do. Now, I want to be clear: I'm not supportive of open carry activism. There are decent reasons for it not to be illegal to carry a gun openly. But holding protests in which you rub people's noses in your ability to carry a weapon in public strikes me as socially disruptive and generally unhelpful to the gun rights movement.
That said, while I can see how to people who are deeply uncomfortable with guns and ignorant of gun culture, open carry might look like "running around with a gun", what the open carry activists do is actually pretty well planned and calibrated not to scare police. Open carry activists tend to keep hand guns holstered and long guns slung over their shoulders. If they hold long guns, they always keep the muzzle pointed up in the air or down at the ground. They don't point guns at people and they keep their fingers away from the trigger. This is the kind of behavior that is incredibly deeply ingrained within gun culture. There is no faster way to get yourself reamed out at a shooting range than to have bag muzzle control (point your gun at someone by accident) or have your finger on the trigger when the gun is not pointed downrange. Open carry activists know that they're being transgressive, and so they're being extra careful with their actions. The result is, they look fairly safe to police.
Nor is it necessarily only a white phenomenon. Gun culture is heavily white, but there are minority members of these groups, and there are also specifically minority gun rights groups. A case in point hit the news yesterday, with a group calling themselves the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, after the founder of the Black Panthers, held a protest in Dallas where they marched with long guns (including the much maligned AR-15) in protest over police shootings.
“We think that all black people have the right to self defense and self determination,” said Huey Freeman, an organizer. “We believe that we can police ourselves and bring security to our own communities.”a history of Black Power groups using open carry, and it's one that I can't help admiring a bit.
Police monitored the black-clad demonstrators, some of whom had rifles slung over their shoulders. As they walked down MLK Boulevard, many chanted “black power” and “justice for Michael Brown,” the black teenager shot by police in suburban St. Louis.
At one point, the group stopped at Elaine’s Kitchen, and one of the organizers told those who were armed to display their weapons in a “safe, disciplined manner.”
Freeman said they planned to patronize several South Dallas businesses to keep their money in the community and teach their neighbors about their “right to self-defense.”
The march came to a peaceful end about 90 minutes after it began at a car wash at Malcolm X Boulevard and Marburg Street. [Source]