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When Congress won't act on gun control, individual groups will

With Congress unlikely to pass gun-related legislation anytime soon, activists on both sides of the gun control debate are taking matters into their own hands.
A sign advocating gun control is seen on a makeshift memorial for UCSB student Christopher Michael-Martinez in Isla Vista
A sign advocating gun control is seen on a makeshift memorial for UCSB student Christopher Michael-Martinez in Isla Vista on May 25, 2014.

With Congress unlikely to pass gun-related legislation anytime soon, activists on both sides of the debate are taking matters into their own hands.

It's not that Democrats aren't trying. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Wednesday that House Democrats are considering attempting to add gun control measures to an appropriations bill this week.

But liberals across the country aren't holding their breath. Instead, they're focusing their energies on doing what Congress won't: preventing another tragedy like Saturday's mass shooting in Isla Vista, Calif.

In Chicago, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently proposed rules that would impose zoning limits on gun shops and require the videotaping of all gun sales. His idea comes months after a federal judge in January ruled unconstitutional the Windy City's ban on handguns.

In Connecticut, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he is going to reintroduce gun bills that focus on mental health issues.

"We need more resources to make the country healthier and to make sure that these kinds of horrific, insane, mad occurrences are stopped. And the Congress will be complicit if we fail to act," he said Sunday on CBS News's "Face the Nation."

Young people account for almost two-thirds of gun-related violent offenses in New York, but not one law has been enacted at the federal level since the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people died, including 20 first-graders.

Non-profit groups have also gotten involved. On Tuesday, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety jointly launched a postcard campaign to urge Americans to create notes addressed to their elected officials with the words: "Not one more."

"Not one more father should lose his child to gun violence, and not one more politician should put the gun lobby ahead of the lives of Americans. Our elected leaders need to know that we will no longer tolerate inaction. Not one more person should die needlessly. Not one more," said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, a group recently created by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to rival the National Rifle Association.

The "Not One More" initiative came three days after a gunman shot and killed six people at the University of California Santa Barbara. Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims who expressed his disappointment with politicians failing to enact stricter gun laws, inspired the call to action. As of Thursday morning, more than 250,000 Americans had created postcards. 

RELATED: After UC Santa Barbara shooting, does gun control have new life?

Moms Demand Action also created a national petition this week pushing for Sonic Drive-In and Chili's Grill & Bar to ban the open carry of firearms on their premises. The Indiana-based group's request comes in the wake of pro-gun residents staging demonstrations at establishments in Texas earlier this month.

"Moms should be able to take our children to family-oriented restaurants like Chili's and Sonic and not have to worry about being confronted by customers with semiautomatic rifles," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. "We support the Second Amendment, but people displaying their loaded weapons at the places we take our children to eat -- as these extremist gun groups have been doing -- is unacceptable."

To be sure, it's not just liberal groups stepping into the void left by congressional inaction on gun legislation. Pro-gun activists are also busy pushing their own agenda, staging "open carry" events at restaurants to assert their Second Amendment rights.

RELATED: Meet your friendly, neighborhood gun owners (and bring the kids)

A video posted by the San Antonio chapter of Open Carry Texas shows a Sonic employee asking armed members to leave the premises. One of the individuals says: "Man, we can't do nothing. I feel like I'm a kid again. My mom won't let me do anything." Mother Jones obtained the video before it was removed from YouTube.

The armed group was met with similar criticism at Chili's, where one customer was recorded saying, "Actually, there's children here, and you're a dumba--," after an Open Carry member offered her a flyer. The armed individuals requested a table for eight people and asked the restaurant host: "You've heard of the Second Amendment, right?" The employee eventually requested that the members remove their weapons from the restaurant.

"What the video shows is that we are serious about our policy that if a restaurant owner doesn't want us in there, we will leave," Open Carry Texas President C.J. Grisham told msnbc. "We don't argue with people if they want us to leave."

Grisham said most local businesses are supportive of his group because they typically call managers before arriving at stores. Members mistakenly neglected to notify both Sonic and Chili's before the incidents occurred earlier this month, he said.

"We don't just walk in and expect people to allow us to come in there. First of all, that's rude," he said. "What we're seeing here is these gun control extremists who are putting national politics into a local issue."

Laws regarding the open carry of handguns vary by state. Texas, for instance, currently prohibits people from openly carrying handguns in public places, but allows residents to possess long guns with the proper licenses. 

Some restaurants have responded by taking matters into their own hands. Chipotle is the most recent company to request that its customers leave their guns at home after an Open Carry demonstration in Texas earlier this month caused anxiety and discomfort to other fast-food patrons. Similarly, Starbucks ground its open-carry gun policy to a halt last year after Moms Demand Action created a petition to ban firearms in the coffee chain's shops throughout the country. The group also successfully demanded action from Facebook, Instagram, and Jack in the Box to alter their gun policies.

Brinker International, the parent company of Chili's, is evaluating its own policy "to ensure we provide a safe environment for our guests and team members," a spokesperson for the company told msnbc. Long guns currently aren't permitted at the company's locations in Texas based on regulation from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which prohibits a business that is licensed to sell or serve alcoholic beverages from allowing shotguns or rifles into the building.

Not all businesses are as concerned about mixing firearms and alcohol. Just this week, a city council in Oklahoma approved a license to sell alcohol for Wilshire Gun Range, set to open this spring in Oklahoma City. The 40,000 square-foot establishment will include 24 firearms lanes, 10 archery lanes, classrooms, a virtual firearm simulator, and a cafe that will serve food and alcohol, said Jane Moran, marketing manager at the range. Six of the gun lanes will be 100 yards in length, the most of that size at any public facility in the country, she added.

Although the restaurant and event spaces will be located in the same facility as the lanes, the areas will be separated. Employees will be required to scan license barcodes for each person who consumes alcohol. Those responsible for allowing customers into the range will receive alerts and forbid any person who consumed alcohol from entering the shooting areas, Moran said.

"We're not opening a bar; we're opening a restaurant," she told msnbc. "We're not making this huge investment so we can do something really stupid. So, consequently we're buttoning that up more than any other facility in the country that does this."

The range is the first in Oklahoma to serve alcohol, Moran said. She noted that similar establishments in other states, including Georgia, Texas, California, and New York, also serve alcohol to patrons, but with less restrictive safety measures.

"Under no certain circumstances is anybody getting into the range if they've had anything," she added, "or if our range safety officers think there is just something a little cuckoo with anybody."