I’ve been thinking a lot about open carry lately. I have a conceal carry permit from the great State of Texas, which means I’m licensed to carry in around 38 states. Now, I don’t carry that often – which has more to do, frankly, with my lack of a easy-to-carry weapon (a full-size 1911 with a steel frame is waaaay too heavy and bulky for an every-day-carry gun). But if I had a pistol more suited to conceal carry, I very likely would carry most of the time. So the question of carrying openly versus carrying concealed fascinates me.
Before I received my training for my permit, I thought I had a clear picture of how I’d carry my gun. I was wrong. Completely clueless, as it turns out. It seems that all the reading, studying, and hypothesizing in the world can’t really prepare you for the real-world situations, rules, laws, and practical applications of carrying.
The biggest lesson I had to learn about conceal carry was “printing” – in other words, making certain that nobody could tell that I have a handgun concealed under my shirt. Turns out, the bigger the gun, the easier it is to print. I’m convinced that there’s a sweet spot for conceal carry, when you’re looking for the biggest bang (literally), with the greatest accuracy, plus the smallest size. I just haven’t found it yet.
Of course, one of the factors that affects concealment more than most is your choice of holsters. I assumed that an inside-the-waistband holster would be the smart choice, as it automatically conceals more of the weapon than a holster that attaches on the outside.
One tiny little problem – if you’re not built like a ripped WWE wrestler or have the scrawny physique of Barney Fife (in other words, if you’ve got even the slightest hint of a spare tire around your waist) you’ll find that carrying inside the waistband is a pain. Literally. The bigger les poignées d’amour (Frenchy French for “love handles”), the bigger the problem.
Seems that grabbing your piece is more difficult when a roll o’ flesh is in the way. (I’m not copping to massive love handles by the way – turns out that ANY excess weight is something of a problem.)
So . . . since we’ve established that conceal carry is not a slam-dunk, easy-as-pie thing to do from a physical standpoint, why not carry in the open?
Well, in most states, you can’t carry a handgun legally in the open. Unless you live in an open carry state, it’s conceal it or nuthin’. (Interestingly enough, you can carry a rifle or shotgun just about anywhere…but not without raising some eyebrows or the attention of the local constabulary.) But why would you want to carry in the open (aside from the “not having to worry with the concealment” thing)? And that’s where the discussion gets interesting.
Let’s take a scenario. You’re in a busy Starbucks. (Why Starbucks? Hey – if the Brady Bunch can pick on ’em, why not us?) Two thugs with guns waltz in and announce that they are robbing the joint. As a responsible gun owner who’s carrying, you play it cool. You practice restraint, up until the bad guys announce they want to herd everyone into the walk-in refrigerator in the back of the store. You quickly realize that this could mean they plan to kill everyone, leaving no witnesses.
That’s when you go for your concealed piece and level the playing field. Let’s set aside for the nonce, the idea that you may not have a shot, there’s a risk of collateral damage/friendly fire or that the bad guys may start shooting first. For now, let’s concentrate on the fact that, concealing your weapon, you have the element of surprise on your side. And keep in mind that you may not be the only patron that is carrying concealed.
Same scenario, but now we have an open carry law. You look around the Starbucks and note that there are several patrons with handguns on their hips. The bad guys can see this, too. Question – would this deter them from their holdup, or would they simply shoot the people that are carrying in the open, to take out what they perceive as credible threats to their plans? Answer – I dunno.
Talk to self-defense mavens and they’ll laud the tactical advantages of concealment. Element of surprise and all that. Plus, they’ll tell you, carrying concealed means you won’t be singled out for the “let’s ice this guy first, since he’s a threat” treatment. Theoretically, if your state has a concealed handgun law, the bad guys will think twice before they jack a restaurant, bank, or other commercial venture, because they know anybody in the place might be a potential threat with a concealed handgun.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for open carry in that situation, too. Seeing that someone is armed is a deterrent, make no mistake. (If it weren’t c0ps would conceal carry just like us civilians.) And theoretically again, if your state offered the option of open or conceal carry, then it would presumably make any bad guy think twice – I mean, if you go into said Starbucks and see one or two guns on patrons’ hips, who’s to say that there aren’t two or three more customers conceal carrying?
I’m hypothesizing here, but I think there might be cases where I’d carry concealed and others, that I’d carry in the open. For instance, if I’m camping, hiking, or doing some activity where I’m somewhat isolated – maybe on a trip and pumping gas after dark – carrying in the open sounds to me like a really good idea. The kind of situation where I don’t need the element of surprise, but would be better off with a deterrent sounds perfect for open carry. On the other hand, dining in a restaurant, shopping, or some other similar activity (attending church, for instance) seems tailor-made for conceal carry.
In the long run, I think allowing citizens to exercise their 2nd Amendment right for self-protection makes a lot of sense. Allowing them to carry in the most appropriate way for a given situation makes even more sense.