I’m not a fan of openly carrying a pistol. Before you accuse me of being an “anti-gunner” or liberal activist, you should know I’m about as pro-2nd Amendment as they come. I’m a 20 year cop, 25 year Marine and Soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and am 100% supportive of armed citizens. I’ve written extensively on the importance and need for the 2nd Amendment, and effectiveness of armed citizens against a variety of threats. Having said that, I think open carry is a bad idea . . .
No, I’m not saying everyone who open carries is a bad guy. Nor am I saying there’s never a good time and place for open carry. Several people have told me success stories about open carry, and I believe them. But hear me out on this. As a cop I’ve carried a gun on and off duty for decades, and have a pretty good grasp on the factors involved with being armed in public. So I’m going to lay out my reasons why people shouldn’t, generally speaking, open carry a pistol.
1) OPEN CARRY MAKES WEAPON RETENTION HARDER
I started as a cop in 1994, not long after police went through a collective “holy cow” realization about how many officers were killed with either their own or their partner’s gun. For decades cops were more concerned with a fast draw than a secure holster, and as a consequence lots of cops were disarmed and killed. Around the early 90’s equipment companies started pushing security holsters, and police academies started training harder on weapon retention techniques. The number of officers killed with their own weapons fell sharply. In my first years on the street, I was in a couple of chaotic fights where the suspect apparently unsnapped my holster without me realizing it, but couldn’t get my weapon.
Fast forward a few years to 2001. I was a UN police officer in Kosovo, working with officers from 54 countries plus the local cops. In my unit we had officers from America, the UK, Greece, Germany and a few other places. I bought my own security holster, but our Greek cop carried his pistol in a really slick, not very secure quick-draw holster. He sold those holsters to several local officers, over my objections.
One afternoon we were in the office before shift. One of the locals had his Glock in the Greek speed holster. As the local officer conversed with coworkers, I walked up behind him, slapped the holster snap with my left hand and yanked his pistol out with my right. He spun around in shock. I handed his pistol back and told him, “that’s why you shouldn’t use those piece-of-crap holsters.”
Then I felt a tug on my weapon. I turned around. The Greek officer had seen me disarm his customer, got angry, and tried to do the same thing to me. But he didn’t know the sequence of movements necessary to remove my weapon. My gun was still secure in the holster.
So what does this have to do with open carry?
The average non-LE belt holster has, at best, a single snap. Many holsters rely on only friction and a tight fit to keep the weapon in place. For a concealed weapon, that’s generally regarded as an acceptable risk; it’s hard for someone to go for my gun when they have no idea it’s there. But if you’re walking around with an exposed weapon in a typical holster, especially in a crowd, you’re at risk of being quickly disarmed.
If you’re willing to spend the extra money on a security holster (they’re not cheap), and willing to put up with the extra bulk (they’re not small), then I’m a little more with you on open carry. But if you think, “I’m going to be so alert all the time, nobody could possibly disarm me,” you’re wrong. Nobody is switched on 24/7. We all get tired sometimes, we all get lazy, we all get complacent. We can all be overpowered by someone bigger and stronger. If you’re open carrying with a regular holster, you can be disarmed, period.
This wasn’t a holster issue, but it illustrates an important fact. Not every criminal is afraid of a gun. If you open carry, you may just make yourself a target.
2) IT’S BETTER TO BE THE AMBUSHER THAN THE AMBUSHED
When I’m in public, I don’t advertise that I’m armed. I don’t wear anything that says police, I rarely wear anything related to the military. One of my goals is to be the “grey man”, the guy nobody notices. Cops or military guys may pick up on clues and ping me as one of their own, but almost nobody else will. And that’s a good thing.
If I’m ever unfortunate enough to find myself in the middle of a crime in progress, I doubt the criminal will immediately ID me as the guy who needs to be shot first. I won’t wear tactical pants (anymore), or t-shirts with huge Glock or Colt symbols, or anything else that screams “I’m probably armed”. Instead, I’ll be just another face in the gas station, bank, mall or theater. In most cases, this gives me a distinct advantage.
Criminals get tunnel vision just like everyone else. Watch videos of convenience store robberies; you rarely see a robber watching his back, or securing customers. Most robbers quickly scan their surroundings for cops or other immediate threats, go to the counter, produce the gun, get what they want and run. If I’m regular Joe in the background, I can draw and make my move when I have the element of surprise.
If I don’t think the robber is going to hurt anyone and I don’t want to risk opening fire around innocent bystanders, my “move” may be to be a good witness. But if the robber is threatening enough or starts shooting at the clerk, I can engage him from an advantageous position, like right behind him. There’s nothing immoral about shooting a bad guy in the back.
If the worst ever happens, and I wind up in the middle of a robbery while my wife and kids are with me and I have no choice but to fire, I’d much rather be involved in a “shooting” than a “shootout”. Ideally, the robber will figure out I’m armed right after he yells “Ow, something bit me!” like Forrest Gump and falls to the floor with multiple gunshot wounds. That’s a much better outcome than having the robber walk in, see me openly carrying, and shoot at me first.
If you’re in a place targeted by a criminal, carrying concealed could give you an extremely important advantage.
3) OPEN CARRY ATTRACTS A LOT OF ATTENTION
This is one of the more contentious points about open carry. The anti-gun side thinks anyone who open carries wants to scare and intimidate people. Even if the open carrier is doing nothing threatening, doesn’t say anything and behaves in a totally benign manner, people around might still freak out. Last year I wrote about an incident in Forsyth County, Georgia, where a man was legally open carrying at a park. This generated twenty-two 911 calls, sparked hysterical reactions from local media, and was the subject of really stupid reporting from the Daily Kos.
People at the park got so scared of this man, they herded their children into a baseball dugout and stood guard in front of it. One woman broke down crying for the camera, saying her son asked, “Did that man want to kill me?” This incident has received national attention, been blown way out of proportion, and is being used by the anti-gun side as yet more proof that pro-gun people are insanely violent (“That crazy man was carrying a gun in a park! Around children!”).
So what did the open carrier accomplish?
If his goal was self-defense, I guess it worked. No criminals attacked him while he walked through the park, probably because they were too distracted by the stampede of terrified parents rushing their children to the dugout. And criminals definitely weren’t going to try to rob the guy as police screeched into the park in response to the twenty-two 911 calls. So he achieved safety, at the cost of being the center of tons of unwanted attention from the local public, police, and eventually much of the country. Keep in mind, this was in gun-friendly Georgia, not some liberal paradise like California.
And some open carriers deliberately try to inflame the public and provoke a police response. This goes back to what I wrote earlier this week: I support open carry as a political statement. I don’t support it as a tactic. If your goal is to rile everyone up and force them to accept your right to carry, fine. Walk around with an AR-15 across your back and a Colt 1911 on your hip, and have your friends follow with cameras. You will get the public’s attention. You will provoke a police response. In an open carry state you should be simply questioned (not detained) and allowed to go about your business, which apparently is to make as big a scene as possible. And maybe to put a video on YouTube, showing how you were hassled by freedom-hating cops for no reason.
Is that why we want to be armed? To force people to react to us?
Carrying to provoke a reaction and then complaining about that reaction is pretty dumb. It’s right on par with a woman walking around topless in New York City because it’s legal there, then complaining “people were staring at my boobs”. Many gun-rights advocates loudly claim they want the government to leave them alone, then some of them take actions calculated to get police officers all up in their grill. Human nature is human nature. Guys will stare at any exposed boobs that happen by, and people uncomfortable with guns will freak when someone openly carries a gun around them. Open carriers and topless women can be as legal as the day is long, but they’ll still have to deal with the unreasonable and unwanted attention their actions bring.
Some of you will undoubtedly say, “I don’t have to change my behavior because of other people’s stupid reactions.” I agree, in principle. But we should also be free to walk in the woods without being eaten by bears. Unfortunately, bears attack and eat people because, well, they’re bears. Liberals and the media overreact, distort, inflame and try to spread panic about armed citizens because, well, they’re liberals and the media. My reason for carrying a weapon isn’t to prove anything, it’s to defend myself, my family and innocent people around me. I can do that better if I don’t have a crowd of panicked liberals calling 911 on me, police questioning me and TV cameras following me to report the Manufactured Outrage of the Week.
Again, as a political statement, I get it. This is America, please speak out about what you believe. But if you’re trying to provoke a response, don’t act like your goal is to be just a regular guy, no different from everyone else except that you happen to be armed. You can exercise your 2nd Amendment rights without making a scene, which in my opinion works out better for all of us on the pro-gun side.
4) WE GET BETTER RESULTS BY ENGAGING ANTI-GUN PEOPLE IN CONVERSATION THAN BY BEING CONFRONTATIONAL
This is going to be another contentious point, because not all open carriers are trying to be confrontational. I’d guess most of them aren’t. But many have been, and I think that confrontational stance works against us.
As a writer, I travel in some pretty liberal circles. The modern writing culture is basically overrun with extremely left-leaning people. As a conservative soldier and cop, I’m the fringe element. And because of this, I’ve had quite a few conversations about guns and gun control with liberal friends.
We on the pro-gun side often justifiably feel that debating the other side is pointless. We want to tell people preaching “reasonable” gun control to shut up, slap them with a copy of the Bill of Rights, show them our openly carried pistols and walk away. Unfortunately, while slapping them and walking away might be satisfying, it doesn’t help. And actually does more harm to our side.
I had a conversation recently with a very intelligent, very reasonable liberal friend. This guy is knowledgeable as hell on many subjects, and discusses everything rationally. Except guns. On that subject, he checks every irrational, emotion-driven box there is.
When we had the gun control conversation, he broke out the usual arguments (“the kind of people who want to carry guns are the ones I’m afraid of”, “if someone drops their gun it’ll go off”, “guys with guns will get mad and shoot it out over minor arguments”, “if everyone’s carrying guns how can the cops tell who the bad guys are”, etc). We had this conversation at a coffee shop, and he thought I wasn’t armed. When I told him, “You’ve never seen me without a gun”, he was taken aback. He seemed to think guys who carry guns can’t be trusted, have no self-control, and will spray and pray at the drop of a hat. When he found out I’m always armed, he had to reconsider.
My friend and I have been attending writers’ group meetings for over a year, we’ve hung out at bars and restaurants, and he’s never seen me do anything stupid. Being armed doesn’t make me cocky and impulsive like he thought it would; on the contrary, because I’m armed I’m much more likely to avoid confrontations. After the conversation, my friend had a new perspective. Chances are, next time he’s around his liberal friends and the topic of gun control comes up, he’ll totally screw up their mojo by saying, “I was convinced that only wackos carry guns. But then I found out this totally normal friend of mine always carries a gun. He calmly explained why he thinks I’m wrong about gun control, and he made a lot of sense.”
Call me crazy, but I think that kind of interaction is worth a lot more than the shock tactic of, say, walking into Starbucks with an AR-15. Had I been openly carrying, our very productive conversation would probably have never happened because my friend would have been scared to talk to me (since, you know, I might have gotten angry and opened fire). Even if my friend doesn’t change his stance on gun control, he still learned that armed citizens aren’t the racist, redneck, Tea Party insurrectionists and child-eating NRA members some liberals think we are.
I know the anti-gun side’s tricks. I know many of them engage in irrational, overtly emotional attacks on us. I get sick of it, too. But there are intelligent, reasonable people on their side who will listen to us if we make the effort, and some of them do change their views. We gain a lot more traction when self-described “New England liberal” author Justin Cronin writes an essay titled “Confessions of a liberal gun owner” or Anthony Bourdain tries to convince his liberal friends to stop demonizing us than we do by telling everyone who disagrees with us to fornicate themselves. Or by openly carrying a pistol, just to piss off the people we know are scared of guns.
Again, guys, I’m not saying open carry is flat-out wrong and nobody should ever do it. If you’re in a place where open carry is normal and accepted, and you think it’s worth the risk of being disarmed or spotted by criminals, do what you think is best. There undoubtedly are places where open carry doesn’t raise an eyebrow and criminals know better than to cause problems, just like there are places women can walk around topless without being ogled (or so I hear, but my wife won’t let me confirm that).
But in a whole lot of America, legal or not, open carry is going to cause problems, and it’s going to put you at more risk. Which is why I think it’s a bad call. Not that it’s evil, not that it’s immoral, not that it should be illegal. In most cases, it’s just a bad call.