You live in an open carry state. You can carry a gun — handgun or long gun — openly just about anywhere you want. Okay, but should you?
Some of you are probably thinking “Not this crap again,” because this is an oft-visited trope for folks who carry a gun. If that’s you, then you might want to skip this one or – alternately – go vent your spleen in the comments. Go ahead, bring the pain, you won’t hurt my feelings.
At present, more than 30 states permit the practice of openly carrying a handgun and most permit open carry of a long gun. Twenty-six states now have full constitutional or permitless concealed carry.
Granted, open carry laws vary by state and by locality. In some states, such as Texas, if you have a concealed carry permit, you can carry openly or concealed if you so choose. Other states, such as Virginia or Montana don’t require a permit. Anyone who can legally possess a firearm can openly carry their handgun in a holster in non-prohibited areas (though concealment requires a permit).
Some states outright prohibit it, and certain cities do as well. Make sure to consult your state and local law before proceeding. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and blathering on about what you think your rights are (instead of what the laws and court precedents say they are) in front of a judge isn’t likely to keep you out of jail if you break the law.
Federal law doesn’t really have anything to say on the topic of open carry, outside of A) where federal law says you can’t carry, i.e. school zones (without a permit) federal buildings and so on, and, B) who can and can’t possess a firearm.
Whether or not you should open carry breaks down into practical and ethical considerations. Practically speaking, open carriers insist that open carrying is a deterrent to criminals with the concealed carry objection being you lose the element of surprise.
How true is any of that?
It’s true that some bad guys have been REALLY surprised when an off-duty officer or lawful concealed carrier has produced a handgun where they weren’t expecting one.
As to open carry being a deterrent…well, it’s not as if any exit surveys have been done where career criminals have said, “You know, I was totally gonna knock off that Piggly Wiggly, but when I saw that guy with a gun on his hip, I thought better of it.” To date, no causal or correlative relationship has been established between open carry laws and crime rates that I’m aware of.
In short: it might have an effect, but nobody can prove it. Hitchens’ razor (that which is claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence) would suggest the “deterrent” argument is specious. Ultimately it’s up to you to make your own decision on that front.
As far as anything from the real world that would suggest an argument against open carry, there have been a few isolated incidents where an open carrier was targeted by a small group of hoodlums, bashed about the head and shoulders and deprived of their firearm. It has happened, but it’s very rare.
However, the thing is that gun owners talk about that crap because we’re dancing around the question of ethics. In other words, the real question is whether you’re being an asshat when you open carry. It’s a touchy subject, as a lot of people have strong, differing opinions, and hoo boy…people will get into it.
I believe everyone should be able to carry openly or concealed as they wish. Some people choose the former, some the latter, and neither bothers me. So long as a person isn’t legally prohibited from possessing a gun and is doing it in a safe, responsible manner, I don’t care.
I wouldn’t want open carry to be legally prohibited, and I would strongly urge anyone to vote against initiatives or candidates that mean to do so. But not everybody thinks the same way I do.
Look, not everyone is comfortable around guns. In fact, some folks want gun control measures so restrictive that no one would be able to have guns except the police or the military…and some folks even want to disarm the cops.
When you open carry, you’re wearing your holster and pistol (or slinging your rifle) for everyone to see, other people’s feelings and the torpedoes be damned. That can make some people nervous, uncomfortable or even frightened. Yes, it’s due to their ignorance about guns, but that doesn’t change how they feel.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of grey matter to remember the Golden Rule. Don’t do something to someone else if you don’t want it done to you. Do YOU like people waving things in your face that make you uncomfortable? Of course not, and that’s how some people feel about guns. But then again…not everywhere is like everywhere else.
Where I live, nobody really notices if I or anyone else open carries. However, eastern Washington/northern Idaho isn’t like the rest of the country. If you live in, say, a bedroom community in Connecticut, you’re going to get the stink eye and the local PD may end up wanting to have a chat with you. Even if there’s nothing illegal about what you’re doing.
Again, you can argue about the “should” all you want. This is about the “is,” and you should definitely consider that.
So the answer is really that it depends a lot on where you’re doing it. Thus, if you open carry in an area with a strong or strong-ish gun culture, it’s probably no real never-mind to anyone and there’s not really much of an ethical problem. If you do so in an area where that isn’t the case, then you’ll probably be making people uncomfortable…maybe intentionally.
Which brings up another reason some open carry. They present the “normalization” argument…it goes something like this: If people who don’t like guns start seeing more people carrying guns openly and not causing a problem, they’ll be more accustomed to them and thus won’t have a problem (or less of a problem) with gun ownership in general.
If that means nonchalantly carrying a pistol in a holster, then maybe that will happen. The problem is some folks take open carry a step too far.
In other words, “Let’s all start open carrying our AR-15s and tactical gear so people can see it’s no big deal.” While there may be no legal prohibition against that – and many states don’t prohibit the open carry of long guns – that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re helping the cause.
Sure, you might not be hurting anyone in any tangible sense…but some folks will definitely find it distasteful or actually threatening.
So if you start parading around a Walmart with an AR-15, a tactical vest, multiple loaded magazines and a loaded handgun on your hip a few days after a mass shooting…you’re going to have a problem, no matter what your rationale is.
So to bring this all home . . .
Should you open carry? So long as you’re legally permitted to do so, and you’re doing so in a safe and responsible manner, you won’t have anything to worry about legally speaking. However, try to use good judgement. If you know you’re doing it in a way that’s liable to cause a scene or make a lot of people nervous or spook the horses, so to speak, you probably shouldn’t.