I have long been a proponent of judicious open carry of firearms, commonly just called “open carry.” There are a number of reasons for this, some practical, some legal, and some philosophical.
There are some folk out there strongly opposed to open carry (as opposed to those who are opposed to carry in general and only mention “open” carry because, well, concealed means concealed and they have no idea how many people might be carrying concealed). The reasons, other than just “I don’t like guns” fall into three categories:
- It makes you the first target of the criminal.
- Someone will rob you for your gun.
- You’ll freak out the locals and law enforcement.
Let me dismiss the first two right here. While they might happen, whenever anyone has cited them I’ve asked for examples. Lots of theoretical possibilities thrown up but actual case of an armed citizen being attacked first? Or someone robbed explicitly to get their gun? Nobody’s been able to come up with more than a bare handful of cases ever. In a nation of more than three hundred million people, I’m not going to worry about something as rare as that. There are too many low probability things that I could worry about if I were so inclined. Yes, it’s easy enough to avoid those two items as “low probability” by simply carrying concealed instead of open, but not enough, in my opinion, to outweigh some other factors.
And, really. Consider the argument made by many for concealed carry: the idea that someone might be armed acts as a deterrent to crime. If the idea that someone might be armed will get someone to hesitate, how much more when they know, because they can see it, someone is armed? Unlike the movies, there are rarely reasons that a criminal has to attack a specific target at a specific time. If they decide the scene is too “hot” they can always back out and come back later. This factor does not get noticed because crimes that don’t happen don’t get added to statistics.
The third reason? Well, that depends to a large extent on where you are. New Jersey (yes, actually legal under at least some circumstances)? Not a good idea. Rural Arizona? Whole different ballgame. And there are factors in that which I will get to in a moment.
There is a fourth reason, and one I will not challenge for anybody. That reason is “I don’t feel comfortable open carrying.” That’s fine. Don’t. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of having your gun visible to the world, then don’t. Cover it up. I would be the last person to tell you that you must open carry. It’s part of that “freedom” thing I’m so big on.
So, with those reasons not to carry, which may be modest but are still real, why would anyone open carry at all?
The first reason is comfort and convenience. A jacket to cover a pistol at your waist or in a shoulder holster might be uncomfortably warm in summer. An “inside waist band” holster that you can tuck a shirt around and thus keep concealed in a shirt and shorts (for hot weather) can be designed to be reasonably comfortable. But it won’t be as comfortable as a holster sitting on the outside of the waistband. Likewise, if you need to get to the gun (criminal didn’t notice the presence of an armed person–more common than you might think) or decided to go for it anyway? Having to move clothing out of the way to get to the gun may only take a half second or so, but that half second might well be the difference between life and death.
Not likely to be that critical? Perhaps. And, indeed, one can make the same “low probability” argument I made about the first two reasons not to carry. And there would be considerable justice in that. But then there are other reasons convenience can come into play. You might, for instance, be going into a place where carry is legally barred and have to set your gun aside. No untucking shirts to get access to the gun so you can remove it, then retucking to look presentable afterward.
Small things, perhaps, but still reasons why one might want to open carry.
A second reason is that very deterrence aspect I mentioned above. Sure, folk talk about folk open carrying being “targeted first” and “robbed for their gun” but I am firmly convinced the more likely scenario is criminal approaches intent on crime, sees individual with visible present firearm, decides “not now” and walks away.
Now, the third reason is the big one. In large parts of the United States when people see someone with a gun it’s either a police officer, or a criminal engaged in committing a crime. Television, Movies, and the News Media emphasize that impression. So the picture people have of someone carrying a gun is police or criminals. This image has been built up over a long time, at least a century. Law abiding citizens interested only in going about their business in peace and are armed against those who would prevent them from doing so are unseen, unremarked, and largely forgotten. Now, people may know intellectually that people other than police and criminals carry guns, but if that’s all they see then that’s the emotional connection they’ll make. And emotional connections influence people’s behavior in ways that intellectual arguments rarely can.
That image could be changed if major entertainment and news were to take a more balanced view on the matter, talk about law abiding folk who carry for self defense as something normal and reasonable instead of “paranoid idiots” who are “a threat to everyone around them.” (Paranoid? Average person has an 83% likelihood sometime in his or her life of being the victim of an attempted violent felony. In about half of those, the crime will be completed not just attempted. And about half those numbers will be attacked more than once in their life.)
If the image in people’s heads that only police and criminals carry guns is to be changed we “in the trenches” so to speak have to be the ones to do it. And one of the main tools to do that is judicious open carry.
The key word there is “judicious.” Look, that guy who exercised his “open carry” right by open carrying an AR pattern rifle into a Walmart just days after there was a highly publicized shooting at one was an idiot.
While I won’t dispute the matter of rights, he remains an idiot.
Use some gods forsaken judgement people. There is a time and place. Some cost benefit analysis would be well worth the effort.
Places which are friendly to guns? Open carry to your heart’s content. Just don’t pull the gun out and wave it around. (That’s “brandishing” and is generally a crime.)
Places actively hostile to guns? Probably better to keep it concealed. Only dare it if you’re really sure you can remain calm under extreme provocation (which you are likely to face) and are willing to face legal harassment, up to including arrest and charge for things like “disorderly conduct”. If you’re prepared to deal with that, then evoking legal charges for the express purpose of showing the unjustness of those laws and the hope of judicial nullification, that’s a fair approach–just remember that it is a gamble and you might well lose which could lead to conviction and loss of rights.
And remember that “SWATting” is a thing and, depending on what the police have been told shooting might be their first tactic. That’s the risk you could be taking.
It’s places on the cusp, where the people average at uncertain or slightly uncomfortable with the idea of people being armed for self defense where open carry can be the most beneficial activism tool. Seeing people simply going about their business with a handgun discretely, if openly, holstered at their side, can help “normalize” the idea of people carrying firearms. Their first reaction on noticing someone armed might be nervousness and fear but repeated exposures to the soft-spoken guy taking his daughter shopping, or the young woman selecting flowers at the nursery, or the middle aged gent washing his car, all with gun, and nothing bad happening can help to normalize the idea in people’s heads.
Just remember that when you open carry you are an ambassador for all of us. Your actions, and reactions, will have a disproportionate influence on the populace about gun owners and their rights.
So use some judgement, okay?