By Jay Williams
Before all you anti-open-carry bigots go off the deep end, let me clarify: I did not take a vacation from open carry. My wife and I spent twenty-three days taking a road trip through nine western states and I open carried as much as possible. My actual goal on this trip was to carry a gun as much as I could, whether open or concealed, but open whenever possible. A commenter on TTAG said something a while back that has changed my thinking about open carry a bit . . .
Laws, in and of themselves, are not moral, and there are far too many of them to keep track of. So, I should really just worry about being a peaceful person and not sweat knowing the gazillion laws which I could never know anyway. Therefore, I focused on exercising my right to life and self-defense or the possibility thereof and on being friendly and courteous, while giving our government the chance to see an armed citizen.
I brought a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield in a soft Blade-Tech holster to carry in the small of my back when I wanted to be discreet or when I knew I would end up in a cell if found out. I also brought a Walther PPQ and an IMI Defense retention holster (carried in the appendix position) for carry open. I really like the idea of the protection that position offers when in a crowd and it’s nice and close to my hand when I need to draw. The retention is just a bonus. I know some of you will have a coronary when you see how I’m carrying, but that’s my well-considered choice.
The Shield holds 7+1 rounds and the Walther 15+1 of Hornady Critical Defense. When carrying the Walther, I also carried two extra fifteen-round magazines. I wore a 5.11 Tactical Series gun belt, and had in my wallet a CPL (Concealed Pistol License) issued by the state of Washington.
The trip began by pulling out of our driveway in Tacoma, Washington, and heading south on I-5 to the Tillamook Cheese factory in Tillamook, Oregon. We drove straight to the factory. The PPQ was in my backpack in the trunk and the Shield was in the center console. When we arrived at the cheese factory, I slipped on the Shield, and my wife and I enjoyed seeing how our favorite cheese is made. The tourists get to see a small version of the full-blown Tillamook factory. It seems like a pretty jumbo factory in and of itself, but from outside, you can see that the actual factory dwarfs the visitor version.
From there we continued south along highway 101, intending to drive all the way to Los Angeles along the coast. Shortly, tough, we stumbled upon the Tillamook Air Museum which we couldn’t pass up, both being aviation fans. Again, the Shield went in the small of my back. We spent that first night in Gold Beach, Oregon, our last stop before entering the bifurcated State of California, much of which is rural and populated with conservatives, while the rest is comprised of densely populated urban centers filled with elitist, leftist pinheads, bent on wielding their power and controlling the people’s lives. But you probably knew that.
I did (not) take my evil guns into California.
The first thing of interest that we saw in California was the amazing redwoods in the far north. More than Zion, Bryce, or the Grand Canyon, my wife said these are the most otherworldly things she saw on the trip (this was her first time in most of these locations). The Shield did (not) accompany me while walking around and photographing these monsters. Truly amazing sights!
Our first night in California was spent in Hayfork, where my cousin and her husband have retired. This area is very rural and is probably one of those places where local law enforcement sees fit to give out concealed carry permits. I did (not) carry my Shield while hanging out with my relatives and while eating breakfast with them in a typical, rural, local restaurant the morning we left. It was a short but very pleasant visit with some of my few remaining close relatives.
From Hayfork, we made our way down to Santa Rosa, about an hour north of San Francisco, almost certainly one of the more dense havens of liberalism in the country. During several stops along the way, we pulled over to see gorgeous cliffs, beaches, and vistas, including Monestary Beach, where we glimpsed several humpback whales, presumably feasting on scads of little fishies. My Shield did (not) accompany me during any of these brief excursions.
In Santa Rosa, we stayed with another cousin, her husband and grandson. While visiting with them, including a short walk to an excellent Mexican restaurant a few blocks from their house, my Shield did (not) accompany me.
We spent all of the next day on the hop-on/hop-off bus in San Francisco, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, Chinatown, crossing the Bay Bridge, and viewing various and sundry other parts of the area. During all of this gallivanting around the Bay Area, I did (not) tote my Shield with me.
We spent that night in Redwood City, then made our way to Hollywood, visiting the astounding Hearst Castle along the way, while (not) carrying my Shield through its many passageways and amongst the gorgeous grounds of the former newspaper magnate’s estate.
We spent day one in Los Angeles touring the city on the hop-on/hop-off bus, including walking around Hollywood, the Farmer’s Market and Santa Monica (which has a much nicer beach than the ones we have here in Washington). During our second day in Los Angeles, we visited a place I hadn’t seen since childhood, Universal Studios. It was as interesting and as much fun as I remember. During our entire time in the greater Los Angeles area, I did not (not) go anywhere without my S&W Shield.
We proceeded with great excitement from Los Angeles to states of greater freedom, starting with Nevada. We spent a brief evening walking around the Las Vegas strip and enjoying an incredible show, Cirque du Soleil. I have to admit that anticipating walking several miles and sitting for 90 minutes through a show to which I was very much looking forward, I opted for comfort and chose to leave the guns in the hotel. This despite having my first chance to open carry. Likewise in Hoover Dam. I was actually concerned about having the car searched, although maybe you’re still not on the Federal installation in the parking garage or leading up to it (there is an armed guard who looks into the eyes of every driver approaching the dam). The guns stayed in the car.
Heading to Arizona and the Grand Canyon, on the other hand, I went into full-blown open carry mode and I don’t think a day went by over the following two weeks when I didn’t don my Walther PPQ in full view for all to see and enjoy. During our several hours of hiking, milling around, and photographing the Grand Canyon, I didn’t see a single ranger, and no tourists were harmed nor noticeably alarmed by the sight of my pistola.
I had a nice conversation with an older former Marine who was toting a radio and a Surefire light on his vest, obviously the prepared type. He had served for years and was there with his son, also a Marine, who had been injured during recent activity overseas. We chatted about wars, our government, and the current state of affairs, then I thanked them for their service, shook their hands, and we went our separate ways.
The attendant in the hotel in Tuba City that evening noticed my gun and appeared a bit concerned, but using my typical open carry technique, I was friendly, smiled, and carried on a normal conversation with him, doing my best to convey that I’m a normal guy and to put him at ease.
We spent our first night in Utah in the city of Kanab, a hub for tourists visiting all the major national parks in the area. We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant and, when we were almost finished, our server, a woman possibly of Mexican descent who also may have been the owner, approached us at our table and said, “We were all wondering why you are carrying a gun.” I love it when people feel comfortable enough to ask and don’t fear that I’ll shoot them if they so much as glance at my piece. I explained to her about self-defense and rights and letting the government know that the people are armed and helping to educate others and so on. She seemed quite satisfied, and I was happy to have been able to discuss it with her.
Throughout the drive up into Utah and through Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, there was also nothing terribly exciting to report, precisely what I was hoping.
I spoke with a park ranger in Zion for several minutes who had a horn and antler on display, explaining the differences to the tourists and allowing them to handle the artifacts. She was obviously a bit nervous at first, but seemed to become more comfortable during our conversation. My modus operandi seemed to soothe her. I simply showed interest in the antler and horn she was showing folks and asked her some questions about them. She wasn’t armed.
Another tourist saw my big gun -er- camera, a Nikon D3, and let me know that there were several rams up ahead, for which I thanked him. I saw the Desert Bighorn rams a while later, and stalked them with my Nikon D2Xs with a 70-200 f/2.8 mounted, PPQ in tow.
After I was finished shooting, I spoke with a couple of other tourists (from San Bernardino, California) about the rams and our respective road trips. She wore a Cabela’s cap and neither of them showed the slightest concern with my gun. That’s how I like it and it’s something I enjoy about open carry, the normalcy of it (even though it’s actually very uncommon).
In Bryce Canyon, I set up my D3 on a tripod and did a time lapse sequence for several hours. Myriad tourists passed me by (most from Europe, it seemed). I took pictures for some of them with the beautiful canyon in the background, helped others with their cameras, and had lengthier conversations with still others.
Some avoided eye contact and probably thought I was a crazy American (guilty!). One pair of ladies approached me and asked what I was doing, stating that I looked as though I knew what I was doing, what with the thousands of dollars in camera gear and multiple tripods. I spent a while giving them some basics of time lapse photography.
Part way into the conversation, one of them glanced nervously down at my PPQ. I don’t think she had seen it before approaching me, given my appendix carry position (the gun is more hidden from someone behind me than it would be in the standard three or four o’clock position). She never said anything about it, however, and we wrapped up our conversation. In hindsight, I wish I had brought it up and told her it was okay to stare at it, and not to worry. One of them was from Chicago and the other from New Jersey. This was a typical experience that one has when open carrying. Some people are nervous, others don’t mind, but most never even see the gun.
For some reason, I hopped on the Internet that night to verify my knowledge of gun laws in Utah. I learned something that I didn’t recall having read before. Without a Utah concealed carry permit, your gun must be two steps away from firing. That meant I needed to empty my chamber. I did so and spent the rest of my time in Utah with an empty pipe. Politicians are such monumental idiots, it boggles the mind.
Next was Salt Lake City. I saw several cops, but I don’t think they even noticed me. The true test of freedom is when cops actually see you. What is their response? Do they respect your individual liberty? I approached one guy on the street to get directions to a restaurant. He ended up recommending another one, a local joint that a tourist probably wouldn’t seek out. It was a sports bar. I didn’t know the specifics of carrying a gun into a bar in Utah, so I stuck my head through the door and asked a couple guys that were sitting there eating a late lunch.
The place was huge, but they were the only two customers, the time being halfway between lunch and dinner. They didn’t think it was a problem for me to have my gun there, but I headed over to ask the waitress, just to be sure. I’m not sure she really knew either. She said I couldn’t have it in the evening (because someone might grab it), but it shouldn’t be a problem now (I understand that probably isn’t how the law reads). In any event, she said she didn’t care if I had it there. That was good enough for me. No one there cared or was worried, I’m a peaceful citizen, and we just wanted to grab a quick meal. Done and done.
Following our refueling, we spent a while touring Temple Square, walking the grounds, taking pictures and entering a few of the buildings, including enjoying pipe organ practice. Beautiful! I don’t know if anyone official saw the gun, but no one said a word. The Mormons seem quite pro-Constitution and are probably pro-gun, in general. Just a feeling.
Just north of Salt Lake City is Hill Aerospace Museum. We spent almost an entire day there. It’s located on the corner of Hill Air Force Base. You don’t have to go through the base gate to visit the museum, but there are some no firearms signs as you drive up toward the museum. I left both guns in the car. The museum is free, huge, and fantastic! Highly recommended. There were no metal detectors. Concealed carry probably would have been just fine.
Stay tuned for Part II in which we drive up through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, then back home to The Evergreen State.