Open Carry: Tactical or Strategic?

Like so many religious arguments (revolver vs. semi-auto, AR vs. AK vs. FAL) the concealed vs. open carry debate arouses strong feelings and passionate discourse all around. So I’m going to throw that hand grenade out and see who jumps on it. There are two different imperatives driving the decision of whether or not to open carry; tactical and strategic. Now, when I say tactical I’m not referring to bayonets or picatinny rails on your carry weapon but tactical in the sense of what’s going on when the SHTF. And from that kind of a tactical standpoint open carry is mostly a bad thing . . .

First, if BGs know that you’re carrying they can target you to get your gun, either violently or clandestinely (although I think it would be awfully hard to pickpocket a holster). Second, if BGs are planning or executing an armed robbery, carrying openly means that you lose the advantage of surprise. It marks you as someone to be watched closely or, possibly, shot first. On the other hand, open carry has also been known to deter armed robbers.

Open carry can also make you the target of ignorant or unreasonable cops. I was open carrying at a gem and lapidary show once and was accosted by a couple of Bloomington, Minnesota cops. They ran my permit and harassed me as much as they could, finishing up with one of them saying “You know if we get a robbery call to this location you’re the first person we’re going to shoot.” Interesting use of force guidelines in that department if they are going to shoot someone with a holstered weapon wearing a bright red shirt that says SECURITY in 2-inch high letters front and back. In fact I’ve had several of what a friend of mine referred to as moments of unusual interest in dealing with various police departments.

On the flip side, however . . . the wife and I were checking out a local restaurant we saw featured on a Food Network show. We got there about 10 minutes before they opened and there were already two Saint Paul PD cats out front who to have lunch (a total of 6 SPPD officers wound up having lunch there that day). As soon as we got inside I went and found the two officers who were already there, showed them my permit, explained that I was carrying and might remove my cover garment and didn’t want to surprise them.

They thanked me, and I figured that was that, but as the whole crowd of them was leaving one of them stopped by our table and thanked me again. He said “I know that guys like you will have my back if I ever get into trouble.” Well, okay, given the SPPD’s attitude towards carriers I probably would. Bloomington PD on the other hand . . . .

So while open carry is really not a good idea tactically, strategically it has some merits (and here is where I get into the most contentious debates with fellows gunnies). My belief is that the vast majority of non-carriers have no idea there are so many “regular people” out there carrying. All they hear about are guns being used in crimes and thug culture.

By open carrying, I am trying to give them a different image of gun owners so when the Brady Bunch talks about camo-clad, inbred, toothless gun owners they can say to themselves “No, the guy I saw carrying at the grocery store held the door for that man whose arms were full and got a box of crackers off the top shelf for the girl who was too short to reach. He smiled and thanked the cashier and wished her a nice day. In fact, he looked like any other middle-aged man in the neighborhood.”

Even the antis are starting to take notice (and take umbrage) of open carry. The National Gun Victims Action Council has a Fact Sheet:

Until recently, the sight of a person openly carrying a rifle slung on the shoulder or a handgun holstered on a belt was rare, yet it is legal to do so in 43 states.

While most Americans consider the open carrying of guns socially unacceptable, it is becoming more common. And it is intentional. A group of zealots around the country has started a movement (www.opencarry.org) whose goal is to normalize the carrying of loaded guns everywhere in public life.

Well actually guys, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this but for almost 7 million permit holders in the U.S., the carrying of loaded guns everywhere is normal. And I would like to know what survey, poll or study showed that “most Americans consider the open carrying of guns socially unacceptable.” But the sad fact (for the antis, anyway) is that as more and more people start open carrying it will be more and more “normal” and fewer and fewer people will find it socially unacceptable. Remember, 50 years ago in many places around the country it was considered socially unacceptable (or just plain illegal) for blacks and whites to marry.

But the NGVAC goes on to explain:

Open carry proponents are becoming more emboldened by the media coverage their events generate, and the absence of any organized counter effort to remind Americans that the open carrying of firearms:

Creates deliberate confusion for the public and law enforcement as no one can be sure that the carrier is doing so legally, or is a criminal with violent intent

Oh, codswallop! Criminals don’t carry openly because they don’t want to stand out from the crowd. And even the pictures that the NGVAC show on their “fact sheet” undermine their argument. Seriously, would you be “confused” about whether this woman is a criminal with violent intent?

Or how about these guys:

Are you “confused” about whether they are carrying legally? What the antis really hate is that as more and more people start carrying openly, fewer and fewer people will panic at the sight.

NGVAC continues their diatribe when they say that open carry:

  • Threatens the safety of children and others from accidental shootings

How does open carry instead of concealed carry make negligent discharges (or accidental shootings as they call them) more likely? Of course, it doesn’t but groups like the NGVAC are opposed to carry in all its forms and want people to think that permit-holders are liable to shoot the wrong person in a DGU when, in fact, only about 2% of citizen shootings kill an innocent person which is one-fifth the number of innocent people killed by cops.

To be fair, this isn’t a particularly fair comparison, because cops usually come in the middle of a situation and so don’t know the players whereas “civilian” shooters have almost always been there from the beginning. NGVAC also says open carry:

  • Creates difficulties for police who are trained to assume that anyone armed is a potential threat

Well I guess with more than 2% of the U.S. population having permits to carry, departments had better quit training their officers that way! And as more people carry openly, more cops will be exposed to the fact that no, not everyone with a gun is a threat. This is not a bad thing. Just ask Chris Garaghty or Glenn Gentile.

  • Provides no protection to open carriers who primarily carry in safe, suburban and rural areas where the threat of violence is essentially zero

Go ahead, tell Dr. Petit that the threat of violence is essentially zero in suburban areas. Then tell it to the families of the 10 BTK victims from the suburbs of Wichita KS, or the 19-year-old raped in Herndon VA, or the 234 women raped between 1999 and 2005 in Brooklyn Park, MN or the . . . never mind. The fact is crime can happen anywhere even in nice “safe” suburban or rural areas.

  • Pits the rights of a paranoid minority against the safety of the majority of Americans who recognize that the risks of openly carried handguns far outweigh the potential benefits

You know, my rule of thumb is when your opponent has to stoop to name-calling and ad hominem attacks, it’s because they don’t have factual arguments left to offer. Anyway…paranoid minority: except, of course, open carriers aren’t usually paranoid. If they were paranoid they would carry concealed so that the people after them wouldn’t know they were armed. And again, I would love to see a source for NGVAC‘s bald statement that the risk to the public at large of open carry outweighs the benefits to both the carrier and the public. Of course they can’t name a source because the facts are not on their side.

Ultimately, the reason open carry twists the antis’ knickers so badly is simply because it is normalizing. Eight years ago when I first got my permit and started open carrying I had the cops called on me at least a half-dozen times in the first three years. But people are slowly getting used to the idea that an OFWG in the liquor store browsing the Scotch selection isn’t going to unleash a fusillade just because they are out of Dalmore Cigar Malt and the patrons at Old Country Buffet figured out that the guy sipping coffee while he and his wife peruse the paper isn’t going to knock the place over on his way out the door.

So guys, even if open carry spreads across the nation, the sky won’t fall. It’s going to be okay. Really.