Open Carry (OC) is a hot topic on TTAG. No surprise; a lot of gun rights proponents heart OC. At first blush, it seems a promising way to extend and defend Second Amendment rights. In many states (including my home state of Colorado) there’s no law against openly carrying a firearm—as long as one is not brandishing said firearm in a threatening manner. Quite a few Western, Midwestern, or Southern states also lack prohibitions against the practice. Include me out. I think OC will ultimately harm gun rights. It’s ill-advised practically, tactically, and politically.
OC advocates claim they’re simply capitalizing on the fact that there’s no law against strapping on a gun and walking around in public in most parts of the United State (even in urban areas). Yes, but— there’s no law against carrying a gun openly for the same reason as there’s no law against break dancing in the middle of Death Valley in July while wearing a fur parka. It’s something that very few people would even consider doing.
Whether they realize it or not, OC advocates are trying to make the open carry of firearms into a “social norm.” In theory, firearms ownership will pass the point of no return, where gun rights are enshrined and assumed rather than constantly defended. Possession being nine-tenths of the law.
Well, that ain’t gonna happen.
For all their little inconsistencies and irrationalities, people are generally pretty practical in terms of what they wear and carry. Women don’t wear hoop skirts or corsets (at least outside of the kinky parts of town) and men generally don’t wear bowler hats or carry canes because these things are pretty impractical, particularly since we don’t live in Victorian England and most of us get around by car (now where did I put that damn cane?).
People don’t customarily carry sidearms or swords for the same reason they don’t carry bullwhips: They aren’t needed. And they are: Cumbersome, heavy, and uncomfortable.
As I noted in my first TTAG article, there are places in the world where it really is necessary for people to arm themselves to go about their daily business. When Uncle Sam was my employer I got to visit several of these lovely garden spots. I can honestly say I wouldn’t wish that kind of life on anyone I liked. Furthermore, in places where arms are a necessity, rather than a fashion statement, people generally eschew the handgun and go straight to a two-handed weapon, preferably with a long (and full) magazine.
[Before someone brings up Switzerland, yes, it’s true there are lots of guns in the Helvetican Confederation. And the Swiss keep those guns securely locked up when they aren’t using them for target practice. Not only are the guns locked up but they keep a strict accounting of their ammo.]
So, practically speaking, the number of people who would actually be willing to carry guns on a daily basis is miniscule – certainly not enough to change the social dynamics of weapons carry in modern-day Western society.
Consider, for example, how many people with a concealed weapons permit rarely or never carry. I’ve had my permit for over three years and have probably carried 20 times. My wife has had her permit for over two years and has never carried a weapon. Are we typical CCW holders? Well, I think we’re closer to “typical” than the people who pack everywhere they go.
And that brings me to my second point: real gunfighters (that is, people who make their living shooting other people) don’t use pistols, except as a last resort. The rifle and the machine gun are the tools of the trade for soldiers, terrorists, guerillas and SWAT cops.
The pistol‘s prime advantage is its small, concealable size. OC gives up the pistol‘s single greatest advantage over a rifle: stealth. It alerts every criminal that you are armed, so he can take you out first. He can then relieve you of that pistol which, besides being a threat to him, is also an item of considerable value that he can sell to his criminal buddies.
Tactically, concealed carry beats open carry every time.
The final factor is political. Post-Heller and McDonald, gun owners are feeling their oats, flexing our political muscles, feeling ten feet tall and covered with hair. But don’t forget that we’re still a minority in this country. A significant, well-organized, well-funded, politically active minority, but a minority nonetheless. it’s also worth noting that a huge number of gun owners would be more than happy to support laws that restricted other people from owning guns.
In that kind of political environment, Open Carry has two very negative effects. First, it rubs our opponents faces in the fact that we have guns.
Gun rights may be front and center in your world, but it’s mostly beneath the radar for most people. OC creates anti-gunners and generates support from uncommitted voters. “Do you want someone carrying a gun to school? THINK OF THE CHILDREN!) RF raised the warning flag over the Supreme Court’s McDonald decision, wondering if it could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. With a little help from OC, it could very well be.
Second, Open Carry is an invitation to a PR disaster.
Lets be honest: not all gun owners are rational people. There are crazies out there. With guns. Advocating Open Carry. If one or two of those people push the limits of civilized behavior all firearms owners will get tagged as “crazy gun owners.” That’s infuriating to those of us who consider ourselves to be mature and responsible citizens. But that’s the world we live in. Enough such incidents and the hammer will drop on some serious (read: Draconian) gun laws that will make the now-expired “assault weapons” ban look like a pleasant memory.
I get where OC advocates are coming from. I read Heinlein books when I was younger, and enjoyed the short-lived Sci Fi series “Firefly,” too. I like westerns and the image of Han Solo swaggering around Mos Eisly with a blaster strapped to his thigh. But real life isn’t like books, movies or TV.
OC is not a social norm and it’s not going to become one. And open advocacy of OC runs a real risk of dragging all gun owners down into the pit of some serious, no BS gun control. Call me crazy, but for the dubious pleasure (and questionable tactical advantages) of walking down the streets with a pistol on your hip, it just ain’t worth it.