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Open carriers with rifles; neither hunters nor protesters, but private purchasers at a “buy back” event

Most law enforcement officers don’t interact much with people openly carrying long guns. That has been changing in recent years as more and more members of the gun culture have exercised their First and Second Amendment rights by openly carrying. The movement has taken off in Texas, where the open carry of modern pistols is banned in public places. Texas is one of only six states that bans the open carry of handguns. This is an archaic anomaly with roots in the civil war and the rewriting of the the Texas Constitution during reconstruction.  In other states . . .

The open carry of long guns in cities and towns is usually either a celebration of Second Amendment rights or a protest by citizens who aren’t allowed to carry pistols. In either case, the rifle and shotgun carriers have been remarkably safe.

Texas open carry march

The open carriers often go to considerable lengths to insure safety, keeping the long guns slung over their shoulders, requiring chamber flags and enforcing strict muzzle discipline on each other to insure that the firearms aren’t pointed at anyone. This is understandable as they are in the public eye by design, and accidents would be an enormous setback for their cause.

Even the New York Times recognizes this:

The state’s clear interest in maintaining public order can be narrowly satisfied by demanding that protesters either carry guns that are unloaded — at least with an open chamber — or which otherwise have the barrel or action blocked. Thus far, open carry protesters have largely followed this rule, notably by sticking tiny American flags into their guns.


Open Carry at the Michigan Capitol

But how safe are they when they interact law enforcement? In spite of the news coverage, the increasing open carry of long guns is not easily quantified. Most officers haven’t yet encountered openly carried long guns. Criminals eschew them because they aren’t easily concealed. More people are murdered with hands and feet than are with rifles and shotguns.

Colorado open carry celebration march

There is one group of law enforcement officers who encounter openly carried long guns hundreds of times a year.   It is axiomatic that game wardens deal with people openly armed with loaded long guns almost on a daily basis. Hundreds of times more often than the typical police officer. If there were to be problems, it is they who would most likely encounter them.

Hunters with long guns.  The center two have semi-automatics

Decades ago, I was a game warden in a couple of states. Wardens routinely encounter people carrying loaded long guns. The guns are usually not slung, but carried at the low ready or port arms. I never saw a chamber flag in these encounters, nor did I ever hear of a warden who did. Wardens don’t customarily or regularly disarm the armed people that they interact with and they don’t routinely point their weapons at people carrying loaded long guns they come across.

Yet in my experience, they are almost never shot by long gun carriers. Some wardens were so confident of the safety of their work that they routinely left their issued firearms in their vehicle or at home. Part of this confidence may stem from the fact that a great many wardens are recruited from within the gun culture, and understand its ethics and values.

We don’t have to rely on anecdotal evidence. There are statistics available.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are 6,640 fish and game wardens in the United States as of 2013. The job description reads as follows:

Patrol assigned area to prevent fish and game law violations. Investigate reports of damage to crops or property by wildlife. Compile biological data.

The BLS also gives us a number for total sworn law enforcement.   There are 635,380 of them for the same year.  Here is their job description from the BLS:

 Maintain order and protect life and property by enforcing local, tribal, State, or Federal laws and ordinances. Perform a combination of the following duties: patrol a specific area; direct traffic; issue traffic summonses; investigate accidents; apprehend and arrest suspects, or serve legal processes of courts.

Fish and Game wardens make up a little over 1% of the total, 1.045%.

We also have numbers for law enforcement officers who were shot and killed in the line of duty, including the number of game wardens.   I chose a 20 year period, from 1992 to 2011, to be long enough for significance, and to ensure that there was time to collect data from the more recent cases.

According to the Officers Down Memorial Page website, there were 1189 sworn officers that were deliberately killed by gunfire from 1992 to 2011.   They have a separate category for accidental gun fire, and as expected, it is a tiny fraction of those who are killed deliberately.    If game wardens died by gunfire at the same rate as other law enforcement officers, you would expect that there would be 12 felonious killings of game warders during the same period.  1.045% x 1189 = 12.42.   That is a very small number, and 20 years is a long time.

The facts are startling.  Only three game wardens were deliberately killed by gunfire in the 20 year period, less than 1/4 of what would be expected.   One of them was killed while assisting deputy sheriffs in a drug raid (he had been a narcotics officer before becoming a game warden).  He was shot with a pistol.   The other two were killed in the process of apprehending poachers.   One was shot with a handgun in the process of placing the offender in handcuffs;  the other was shot with a rifle after the offender emptied his pistol at the end of a high speed chase, then grabbed a rifle.   None of them were shot while a warden was approaching someone openly carrying a long gun.

If we leave out the drug raid, the number drops to less than one sixth.

It appears that one of the safest things law enforcement officers can do is check out people who are legally carrying long guns.  This is not surprising when you consider that hunters and open carry demonstrators and protesters are subsets of the same culture, the gun culture.

The gun culture, as explored by professor Brian Anse Patrick in “The Rise of the Anti-Media” is in transition from the older gun culture in which hunting was a predominant activity, to the new gun culture in which self defense and politics are predominant activities.

One of the commandments of the gun culture is to never point a gun at anyone or anything you do not wish to destroy.   This commandment is so ingrained that gun culture members who become peace officers often have to undergo special training to overcome the reluctance to point guns at people when it becomes necessary.

The open carry of long guns is becoming more common as the 80-100 million gun owners and members of the gun culture become more politically involved.  Police officers have nothing to fear from this exercise of second amendment rights.   They need only look to the experience of game wardens to reassure themselves that these demonstrators will continue to behave safely and responsibly.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

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  1. In the interest of playing devil’s advocate, people approached by a game warden aren’t deliberately involved in a political activity and can usually rest assured that the warden has no personal qualms with civilian gun ownership. In an open carry rally, the first is a given and the second is a toss-up in the very best of cases. I can understand why a LEO would handle such a rally differently than approaching a hunter, but there should be no practical difference between the two.

      • None … yet.

        I am still waiting for the first open carry rally in California, Illinois, New York, or New Jersey. I don’t think such an event in any of those states would end without gunfire.

        • Perhaps…

          My point was merely to emphasize that a cop has literally ZERO objective basis to approach an OC long gun in a rally differently than an OC long gun in the woods.

          Any difference would be caused by the subjective, non-factually supported fear of the cop in that circumstance.

        • Really, a game warden would be in far more danger than demonstrators at an OC rally. They basically look for armed poachers out in the woods on their own. Demonstrators tend to call ahead and peaceably assemble in open areas generally considered safe to make the point that its people not guns that do bad things. Not to mention city cops probably have mraps and swat on standby for those rallies itching to put the boot down.

      • None, but you and I both know that the anti-gun reader would say, “But hunters aren’t in a charged political environment! They aren’t going to be all emotional and wurble blurble glurble!”

        No argument is so good that it cannot be improved by critical analysis, which is what I was doing. The point being made was that open carry of long guns does not endanger officers (quite the opposite), and I pointed out some minor potential weaknesses in the way that argument was made.

        • “None, but you and I both know that the anti-Open Carry-but-claims-to-be-pro-gun reader would say, “But hunters aren’t in a charged political environment! They aren’t going to be all emotional and wurble blurble glurble!””

          Minor adjustment. 😉

  2. Mosin-Nagant and Mauser are ancestral enemies of one another. The feud re-started during an accidental meeting on a suburban street in America. Blissfully unawar of the history the ladies took their pet rifles for a fatefull walk….

    Wait, this isn’t a photo caption moment?

  3. “This commandment is so ingrained that gun culture members who become peace officers often have to undergo special training to overcome the reluctance to point guns at people when it becomes necessary.” I never knew that. So would it be correct to assume that the LAPD or NYPD don’t go through that kind of training?

    • That would be because L.A. and N.Y. are so anti gun that must recruits have never touched a gun before going to the academy.

      • Except when the lapd and nypd put out their casting call letters to people who may soon seperate from the military. The guys in the O.N.G infantry unit by my college routinely get junkmail sent to them at the unit from metro police departments and ohio highway patrol looking to recruit them when they separate

  4. Oustanding article, Dean. You are doing impressive work explaining Open Carry in a calm, rational way, and RF, my vote is to save this as an entry in Gun Facts tab for future reference.

    Following the link to Deans blog, GunWatch, and reading more, the key info item for including somehow in the TTAG header tab for Gun Facts is anything useful in this book, The Rise Of The Anti Media.

    I found one reviewers reference to the power of the NRA very interesting, and not at all as its been painted by Nanny Bloomberg, but as based on “the matrix of horizontal associations” that the author posits is a key enabler that constitutes the new gun culture. Something we’ve talked about peripherally, but not documented as much, with facts, as anecdotal references, or a sense of trends, as sensed and reinforced in the gun blogosphere.
    Reminds me of Glenn Reynolds observations of power in the digital age, by “An Army of Davids.”

    I also caught Deans mention of the review of gun legislative history and deep scholarship, noting it was previously out of the reach of most of the public due to typical academia journal pricing for hard copy tomes, but is now on kindle for $9.99.

    I have a feeling this resource will help inform the rational discussion thats one distinguishing characteristic of TTAG–Forming-Americas-Concealed-ebook/dp/B00FX758S4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404664356&sr=1-1&keywords=rise+of+the+anti-media

  5. Slightly relating to open carry. Flipped on the weather this morning and TV was on (free TV) channel that runs OLD westerns 90% of the time. Movie was 1932 “Ridin’ for Justice” with Buck Jones set in Nevada.

    Central to the plot was the power mad Marshall that had passed a city law forbidden cowboys from carrying firearms in the city. The cowboy (Buck) took exception to the proposal. Only the Marshall and his many deputies could carry.

    I didn’t have time to watch it. Thinking the director had a political message.

    • Ssshhhhh. Those are not Open Carry events because they meet the approval of OC critics.

      Maybe…if there were more OC of long guns on a DAILY basis, there would be fewer riots and an even faster declining violent crime rate.

      Nah, that can never work. We all know OC-ers are just some kind of x-tard attention whores, right? There can’t EVER be anything good from OC-ing long guns! EV-AR!

  6. This is why I am so fervently against “assault rifle bans”. Long guns are just rarely used by the criminal element. It is just ridiculous that liberal states have the bans. Of course we do know that banning “assault rifles” has nothing to do with crime; don’t we?

  7. This piece could correctly be used to show how some on our side are out of touch and delusional.

    – OR –

    This very cleverly illustrates the absurdity of the numbers Moms Demand Action throws out, by throwing out similarly ridiculous numbers held together with little more than chewing gum and dental floss.

    I mean, nobody is oblivious enough to actually believe these childish scribblings are in any way scientific or prove a damned thing, right? RIGHT???

  8. I’ve only been to a couple of open carry rallies, and those have been well organized events with public speakers and media attendance. One had some police presence. The other may have, too, undercover, but none that I saw in marked cars and uniforms. Both seemed pretty politically charged, yet no one was injured or threatened or in any visible way intimidated. So that seems a fairly flimsy rationale for hassling open carriers.

    Speaking of hassling open carriers, of those cases of individual or very small OC groups, it’s only when the police arrive to hassle the open carriers, that anything becomes contentious. Prior to the police arrival, it’s usually a few guys enjoying their coffee or burritos or a couple of families sitting down for a lunch. Then come the cops, aka gun bullies with badges, to throw their abundant weight around to hassle people. Still, no one gets injured, though law abiding open carriers certainly do feel intimidated and certainly are threatened with arrest, fine, and confiscation.

    Am I the only one seeing that it is the police who are more often the cause, or at least catalyst, of these crises? We don’t have an open carry problem. We have a problem with armed agents of the state who only reluctantly respect the people’s civil rights, and even then only when they’re greatly outnumbered by law abiding, arms bearing citizens peacefully protesting. Hmmm…….maybe the Framers were onto something with that whole Second Amendment thing. Ya think?

  9. From what Ive seen, mostly here at TTAG.
    The LEOs involved don’t have a clue as to why they are doing what they do. When they encounter a long gun carrier they loose all different kinds of to protect and serve.
    They have the education of a flea for the most part in Civil Law.
    Which to me is surprising considering its their job to enforce the laws of the land.
    Not the demands of some ninny who sees a gun in the day light and dials 911.
    The LEOs involved in most of these enconters seem to escalate what should be a short encounter into something blown way out of proportion due to their lack of knowledge of the law.

    While we don’t have open carry here.
    I talk to most of the local LEOs here from a personal relationship with the Captain down to the many patrol officers who stop in the shop to take a break and shoot the breeze.
    And all the guys involved in evictions as related to my lock shop.
    They all have more common sense and knowledge of the laws then the small town cops in most of these videos.

    • In fairness, even the government doesn’t know how many laws there are in the US anymore. They can’t keep track.

      So if we don’t even know what all the laws are, how can we expect someone to know them all?

      The laws a police officer knows are going to be a factor of their experience, community, etc..

  10. Hey, Dean, can you and your fellow OC organizer-types, like OCT, bring a big old group up here to Saint Louis?

    I am thinking you should organize a big march through North Saint Louis neighborhoods. I think it would really go over well in Ferguson, Missouri.

    You can post for photos with the local citizens welcoming you with open arms and expression of thanks.

    Be sure to bring these guys along and make sure the guy holding the Confederate battle flag shows up too.×2000.jpg

  11. It apparently goes the other way as well, as I’ve never heard of cops shooting anyone at one of those open carry demonstrations. That makes openly carrying a rifle considerably safer than being an unarmed black man…

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