When I blogged the heinous murder of a Philadelphia dog walker in a “safe” neighborhood, two things struck me. First, that the killers admitted to searching for an easy target. Second, the murderous villains would not have considered a dog walker openly carrying a firearm an easy target. Yes, there is that. I’m a firm proponent of open carry for comfort, firearms normalization (which defends and extends gun rights) and deterrence. But there’s an important if statistically improbable concern: firearm retention. You don’t want someone using your gun against you. If you’re new to guns and want to open carry, excellent! Here are three tips for dealing with that issue . . .
1. Maintain situational awareness
Situational awareness means being aware of your situation. Thinking about where you are, who’s around you, what’s happening and what might happen. In other words, proactively scan your environment for your safety. Are you in a situation where there’s a possibility of a gun grab? Is the possibility high, low or extremely unlikely?
The general rule of thumb for open carry is the same general rule of thumb for concealed carry: avoid stupid people in stupid places doing stupid things. If you find yourself somewhere where two of these three criteria are operative – say a bar with people getting drunk – leave. If all three are present, you shouldn’t be. Vamoose. Bail. Skidaddle. Hit the road. Better yet, don’t go there.
Situational awareness requires more than a simple heads-up. It’s also about being aware of your own ability to avoid, escape or engage. As in defend yourself. Where’s cover (something that will block bullets) and/or concealment (a place to hide)? How would you help friends of family? It’s not paranoia. It’s simple, basic, preparedness.
The greater the potential risk of a gun grab, the more you need to be ready for evasive action or violent confrontation. For example, if you have to pump gas late at night, be prepared to run, use the car as a block or defend yourself. Consider your defensive options and then get on with the business at hand: enjoying life as free American.
If that process seems too daunting, you might not want to open carry. Keep in mind that the process becomes instinctive and that most of us live in a world where the risk of a violent attack are low. Generally speaking, criminals aren’t looking for a fight, never mind a gunfight. Open carry reduces your risk of an assault.
2. Keep your distance!
If your spidey senses start tingling, if a dodgy looking stranger or group of strangers is vectoring towards you, move! Distance = survival. If you need to deal with an attack, the more distance you put between you and your aggressor(s) the more defensive options you have – including non-firearm-related action (e.g., shouting a warning and /or the blocking strategy described above).
I don’t mean run away any time a stranger or strangers approach. Check out who’s coming into your personal space and decide whether or not evasive action is required. For example, if [what appears to be] a pan-handler is moving towards me, if someone untoward asks me the time, I move away. If I’m walking down the street at night and I see a gang of twenty-something men heading my way, I cross the street. If I’m strolling down an average street on an average day, I’m aware but not evasive.
When you get near a stranger, position your body to reduce the risk of a gun grab and increase your ability to protect your firearm (some basic close-quarters combat training wouldn’t go amiss). When I open carry and meet new people, I stand slightly sideways, with my left shoulder (I carry on the right side) towards the stranger. Again, this isn’t pathological. If everything seems fine, I relax and continue enjoying life as free American.
3. Look good, be polite
The other “threat” that worries new open carriers: the police and bystanders.
Don’t let the dozens of open carrier/cop confrontations on YouTube put you off. If a police officer approaches you, keep your hands in plain sight (away from your gun), smile, be polite (of course) and deal. Legally, you don’t have to show ID or ID yourself to a police officer unless he or she suspects you of a crime. But you’re under no obligation to school the cops, which almost always leads to delay and an escalation of their investigation.
If you’re going to comply – which you can do while stating your objection – ask the officer how they’d like you to proceed. “My wallet is in my back pocket. Is it OK if I take it out?” Speak and move slowly. Relax. If they want to check your gun and you’re OK with that, have them remove your firearm. If you’re wearing a retention holster, tell them and ask how they want to proceed.
As for interested bystanders, be polite (of course) but never let anyone touch your gun. Don’t remove your firearm from the holster to show it to someone. As for antagonistic bystanders, people who object to open carry, be polite (of course) and leave as soon as possible. There’s no point in engaging in a gun rights debate with someone who doesn’t know a free American when he or she sees one. You’ll only stress yourself out and increase the chances of a physical attack.
Above all, look good. Dress well, do normal stuff. Wearing an aggressively pro-2A T-shirt or bandolier of bullets (I’ve seen it) is asking for trouble. Don’t get me wrong: as a free American you’re free to dress any way you please and behave in any way that’s legal. But you’ll do more for your own protection, and the protection of your and our gun rights, by presenting yourself as a clean-cut “average Joe.”