The Hidden Benefit of Open Carry


Gun guru Rob Pincus has blessed TTAG with his take on open carry. Mr. Pincus argues convincingly that open carry is a mistake—on the tactical level. He’s shown us that the difference in presentation time—bringing a gun to bear on a bad guy—between open and concealed carry is relatively unimportant. I could quibble with his assessment. Most people who carry a gun suck at deploying (and aiming and shooting) a firearm; there’s a huge difference between the two carry systems for the average armed self-defender. But why bother arguing the point? If you home carry in any way, shape or form, you’re WAY ahead of the game. But Pincus and others fail to highlight an another mission critical aspect to open carry . . .


The first person I ever saw openly carrying a firearm: an African American gas station owner in Atlanta, GA. As a ballistically sheltered northerner I was taken aback by the stainless steel Smith & Wesson 686 holstered on his hip. When I asked him about the gun he had a simple explanation. “It shows the bad guys I mean business.”

Like the rabbi, Pincus reckons anyone open carrying might as well wear a “shoot me first” T-shirt. Again, I’m not here to quibble. There aren’t any stats backing-up the assertion that showing a gun puts you first in the firing line. And I don’t have any relevant experience. So I’ll concede the point.

But there’s no ignoring the gas station owner—and thousands like him—at the sharp end of this debate. The business owner decided that open carry is in and of itself a form of self-defense. Bad guys see a gun, calculate their odds of success vs. the downside of corporal ventilation and look for easier prey.

Open carry isn’t just about getting to your gun more quickly. It’s about increasing the probability that you won’t have to use it.

Another frequently overlooked point: the more people open carrying in a given location the more effective the deterrent. If a bad guy or guys see more than one person carrying a firearm they know that any attempt to victimize the gun owners or nearby citizens will trigger a serious gunfight. Which they could lose.

Obviously, this deterrence multiplier doesn’t apply [so much] to gangbanger vs, gangbanger confrontations. And sure, a drug-crazed criminal or spree killer might not worry about the possibility of  multiple armed defenders. But the chances are they’ll look for a softer target. Spree killers have this thing for gun-free zones (e.g. Virginia Tech and Aurora Colorado).’Nuff said?

It must also be said: this multiple open carry deterrent effect is almost entirely theoretical. Estimates vary, but less than than two percent of Americans carry a concealed weapon. Period. The number who open carry is a fraction of that fraction. Round it down to zero.

Which brings us back to question of open carry as a personal deterrent. That’s a tough one. Again, there are no stats on open carry’s inhibitory impact on crime nor any reliable method for creating the date (how do you measure crime that doesn’t happen?). Gun owners have to judge the advisability of open carrying based on guesswork. Or, if you prefer, common sense.

Common sense says that people who see a man with a gun understand that the man is willing to use it. Aye, there’s the rub. At least for me . . .

I live in a state of 1m residents (excluding illegal immigrants). There are less than 4000 state-issued weapons permits enabling open carry and a few hundred city-issued concealed carry permits (no open carry). A Hope stater carrying openly isn’t just an outlier, he’s an alien.

If I open carry it’s only a matter of time before the police yank my chain. Sure, I have the legal right to open carry. I’d probably win the court case. But probably isn’t good enough. As a single parent, I don’t want to spend ANY time without being able to exercise my right to keep and bear arms.

And so my desire to open carry—a practice which could reduce the threat of violent crime for both myself and society in general—flounders on the rocks of the real world practicality. Which is a damn shame. Because those of us who believe in open carry deterrence should have a choice.