By Jay Williams
In an earlier installment, I chronicled the first part of my travels this summer through the west while open carrying on my summer vacation. Next stop? Kemmerer, in the least populous state in the union, Wyoming. Immediately after crossing the border, we pulled over to get a picture in front of the Welcome to Wyoming sign, and the first thing I did upon stepping out of the car was rack my slide(s). Checking into and out of hotels, eating in restaurants, and walking around both Kemmerer and Cody, I was armed for all to see . . .
In Kemmerer, when I finished checking in to the hotel, I stepped out of the office to head to the room. A fella in a big red pickup had just exited his truck and was presumably going to check in to the hotel. He asked if I was a cop and said no, I just like to carry open. He said, “Awesome!” I would’ve thought that no one would think anything of an armed citizen here in Wyoming, but apparently it’s not as common as one might think.
The morning we left Kemmerer, we ate in a nice local restaurant, the exact kind of place you’d expect in small-town America. Many locals were there and knew each other. Two couples sat near us. The husbands were talking politics and firearms. They were obviously pro-freedom. I looked over at them and said, “I like you guys!” They just ignored me. You might think that people in a small town tend to be friendly, but it ain’t necessarily so.
Three guys walked in and sat down while we were still waiting on our food. One of them was openly carrying a pistol. I’m not sure what it was, but it was pointed straight to the rear in the leather holster he was using, attached to his hip via his belt in the three o’clock position, a different mode of carry than I had seen before. He and his buddies all had hunting knives on their belts. I ran into one of them at the gas station a little while later. He was friendly and told me they were hunting antelope. He had actually worked as a fisherman in the Puget Sound region before and said he might be doing it again, based on the poor economy. I wished him luck with his hunt and he wished us well on our trip.
After arriving in Cody, my wife and I strolled along main street (Big Horn Ave.), checking out the stores and looking for a place to have lunch. We ended up eating out on the porch of a super old place named after one of William Cody’s children, the Irma Hotel. I asked a waitress about carrying inside, where they serve alcohol. She said it’s common and not a problem. Again, I wasn’t entirely confident she knew the law, but I carried my pistol openly into the bar and spent several hours sitting there, peacefully, watching the Seahawks vs. Chargers game. Neither the waitresses nor any of the other patrons seemed to care.
Some of them were obviously tourists, but many others were clearly locals, dressed in cowboy boots, cowboy hats, jeans, and big belt buckles. Many of them knew each other and the bar tender. One of them, a guy who apparently used to work there, and who seemed to know everyone, was very loud (maybe with a bit too much booze in his system) and kept yelling, “Charger power! Energize!” We gave each other jazz the whole game long and agreed that it was a good game after all was said and done. He, however, was much happier than I at the outcome. The Chargers played a very solid game and came out on top.
The way I figure it, a good cop, if aware of my toting a pistol in a bar (if illegal), would simply tell me to take the gun out and put it in my car. If a peaceful citizen breaks a law unknowingly, I believe it’s immoral to throw them in prison (a la Shaneen Allen). By the way, my wife had hot tea and I had a Coke. Before we left, I bought two raffle tickets for a Henry in .45-70 that was hanging on the wall.
Months before leaving on this trip, I emailed the William Cody Historic Center and inquired as to their firearms policy. I got a quick response from Paul Brock, Director of Operations:
I received your inquiry as to our policy for firearms. Our policy is to have you check your weapon at the Security desk where they are kept in a locked firearms safe. Due to the nature of our firearms collection, we have instituted a policy that helps to avoid any confusion over whether the firearm is yours or ours. We do make an exception for law enforcement officers with appropriate credentials. Thanks for your early communication and your interest in our museum. Let me know if you have any further questions.
I don’t agree with the policy, but appreciated that they had at least some kind of system in place to accommodate the armed (non-uniformed) citizen. And so I carried my gun into the Historic Center, wanting to try out their system even though I could’ve just left my gun in the car. The woman who sold me the two tickets at the ticket desk near the front door kind of glared at me, but I didn’t say anything. I headed over to the security desk where I unclasped my belt and slipped my gun off (in its retention holster) and handed it to the uniformed security agent. I also handed him my ammunition, although apparently that wasn’t required. He leaned down behind the counter and re-appeared with a key, which he handed to me.
After enjoying the first few of five museums inside the Historic Center, we were ready to head out to take the trolley tour of the city, then get some lunch. This time, at the security desk there were two uniformed security agents. I handed my key to one of them. He bent down and a moment later came back up with my gun which he proceeded to swing past me, the muzzle covering me. I thought, “Okay, he just swiped me, but it was quick. It’s in the retention holster, trigger covered, so no problem.” Then he set it on the counter, pointing directly at my chest.
I mentioned to him that it might be a good idea not to point the gun at me. He said, “It’s got to point at someone. Better you than me.”
I wasn’t terribly amused by this. I went ahead and strapped it on and my wife and I then took the trolley tour and then got lunch. Upon returning to the Historic Center, there was an old geezer manning the security desk. He saw me taking off my gun, bent down to open one of their safes and just told me to go ahead and put it in there. I mentioned that that sounded like a good way to do it and thanked him (there were two rows of four small safes, if I recall correctly, each of which was big enough to hold a full-size pistol and ammo).
After seeing the other museums (there are five museums in the William Cody Historic Center) we headed toward the entrance. I approached the security desk and handed my key to a man in a dress shirt and tie. He handed my gun to me in a safe manner and inquired as to how we enjoyed our visit. He was very professional.
After getting back to our hotel room, I composed a polite but to-the-point e-mail detailing what had happened with the security guard and his lack of safe gun-handling and professionalism and sent it off to Paul Brock. I never heard back. Here is the e-mail I sent him:
My wife and I visited the Historic Center yesterday. We thoroughly enjoyed all the museums and will definitely return in the future. I do have a concern about your security guards, however.
Upon leaving for lunch, I exchanged the key for my pistol. There were two uniformed security guards at the security desk at the time. The one that gave my gun back to me (I didnâ€™t check for his name) had absolutely no muzzle awareness and ended up laying it on the counter pointed directly at my chest. I suggested he might want to watch the muzzle and not point it at me. His response was something along the lines of â€œItâ€™s got to be pointed at someone. Better you than me.â€ His lack of good gun handling skills is bad, but his attitude might be even worse. My gun was in a retention holster and the trigger was covered, so it was safe. Still, his gun handling was really bad. Unfortunately, you canâ€™t control the gun handling of your visitors, but you can definitely see to it that your security guards have good basic gun handling skills and safe and proper attitudes towards guns.
On the flip side, whoever handed my gun back to me when we left toward the end of the day (maybe you?) was very professional, courteous, and safe when handing my gun back to me (and interested in how our visit was) and I appreciated that.
The William Cody Historic Center is absolutely fantastic. If you are in or near Cody, Wyoming, you must go. Their firearms museum is astounding! The NRA museum might be better, but I don’t see how any gun museum in the world could be much better than this one. When we visited, there was a (temporary) display of guns on loan from the Smithsonian, too. I was cross-eyed from looking at so many guns well before we were finished.
From Cody, we went to Yellowstone National Park. The animals didn’t seem to mind my gun and, although they couldn’t see my eyes through my sunglasses, I noticed a few looks out of the corners of the eyes of some Asian tourists. Most people didn’t notice or didn’t care.
From there, up into another pretty free state, Montana. It was in these states where I really didn’t have too much concern about open carrying even though I’m certainly most confident in my own state. It’s a shame that we have to worry about not knowing the intricacies of laws in other places, but that’s the current state of affairs. Nevertheless, I wasn’t too worried during most of my trip, not being too risk averse and being a staunch practitioner of individual liberties.
In Montana, we stayed a night in Bozeman, then drove up to Browning, our jumping off point for going through Glacier National Park. I didn’t expect Browning to be the typical native American dump, but it was. For me, though, that’s part of what’s so fun about travel — seeing the unexpected, unusual, or that to which you’re not accustomed.
While there, we ate dinner at a local Mexican fast food joint, Taco John’s. When we were about to leave, a little girl, probably four or five, asked me, “Are you a nice cop?” I couldn’t help smiling, and told her, “I’m not a cop, but just a regular guy. Any regular person can carry a gun. You don’t have to be a police officer.” My wife and I both got a chuckle out of that.
Interestingly, there were signs in Glacier National Park that said not to use your gun on wildlife unless absolutely necessary. I think in most national parks, they’re hoping you won’t have a gun. In Montana, they’re assuming you do. Cool. While there, I ran into a guy from Texas. He asked, “You can open carry here?” I told him you can open carry with no permit or government permission in most states and that I had been carrying throughout our trip in several states. He seemed to think that was cool. I agree! Ah, that paradox, Texas.
After exiting Glacier, we stayed with some friends in Kalispell in their extra A-frame overlooking a gorgeous river with no one else around, a little bit of paradise. From there, it was on to Spokane, then home.
In Spokane, I asked the gal at the front desk of our hotel for a good restaurant recommendation. She said there was a good Mexican joint ten or eleven blocks away (Yeah, we like Mexican grub.). Boy, was that was a long walk. We passed numerous bums – er, um, homeless people – on the way. My wife was actually pretty concerned and would never have made the walk alone (she was also concerned about the walk back, and preemptively suggested we take one street over where there were lots of fast food joints and more lighting, which we did).
When we finally got to the place, a gal inside the door said to come on in! She said the restaurant was just next door (she was sitting in the bar area, chatting with someone else). I happen to know that it’s illegal to have a gun in a bar in Washington, so we skedaddled on through into the non-bar part of the establishment and I made a comment as we passed them along the lines of quickly getting through the bar into the restaurant so as to not attract the attention of the police. She chuckled, presumably knowing as well that I shouldn’t be in that part of the establishment with my gun. I then proceeded to eat one of the best meals I can remember, a big burrito that was just exquisite. Tacos Tumbras is the place.
Day twenty-three consisted simply of a drive across Washington. More of the same. Walked around at a rest area and no one paid much attention. My experience has been that the horror stories of cops harassing people who are open carrying are the exception. At least I hope thatâ€™s not the norm, or that it becomes rare. It has never happened to me, and for that I’m grateful.
I love to travel. I’ve been to around forty countries and probably thirty states. I had just as much fun on this trip as on any, maybe more in some respects, as most of the places we visited were new to my wife. I was feeling lazy before beginning the trip and at one point had decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to exercise my rights (open carry does take extra effort). However, I’m glad that I spent the energy and took the initiative to be armed during our travels through nine western states – er, um, eight, since I did (not) have my guns with me in California.
Was I ignorant of the law in a few cases? Yes. Could I have gotten in trouble for a few of the things I did? Maybe. However, I know with certainty that I educated some people and helped them to understand us pro-firearm folks better, and I believe that some others got good exposure to freedom that they don’t normally get. I hope that it made them think, “I don’t know why that guy had a gun, but he seemed okay. Maybe guns aren’t evil.”