By Paul Brown
I can still remember the first time I saw a non-law-enforcement, non-military open carrier. It was at a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and the guy was carrying a, full-size .357 magnum in a brown, leather holster on his right hip. I have always been a supporter of the right to keep and bear arms and though I had just recently moved to Virginia, I was also familiar with the laws surrounding firearms so I wasn’t that surprised (or shocked). Still there was an impact, a positive one, and this is why . . .
I would not have personally been weirded out by a guy carrying a gun. Not only had I been exposed to firearms by my parents since before I could walk, but I also served for five years in the United States Marine Corps, where I grew incredibly used to the presence of firearms virtually all the time.
But despite my own level of comfort I had always wondered about how others would feel about carrying a gun in public…gasp! After all, I didn’t want to scare anyone, or get the police called on me.
Everyone appeared to be fine though. It was a fairly crowded restaurant and people didn’t even seem to notice. If they had noticed they certainly didn’t seem to care. It opened my eyes. It would be several months from that point before I would ever open carry, but the seed was planted. This is something I can do safely, without scaring the masses, and without going to prison. And it’s something you can do too (some restrictions apply, please check on your local laws).
But more than that, it’s something you should do. And this is why.
With the recent changes in the law in Georgia along with an all-time high in national attention to all things gun-related, the antis are throwing everything they’ve got at us, most recently targeting open carry. Maybe it’s just something that is so absolutely scary and absurd to them that they feel like they must go after it, or maybe they realize what a powerful tool it is in our favor. If it’s the latter they may be right. Let me explain.
Sweeping, radical changes in society are pushed by effective, powerful information campaigns and propaganda. When ideas are offensive to large swaths of society, sometimes the best way to change people’s perceptions is to normalize the subject through constant exposure to it. The civil rights movement did not move forward because proponents for equal rights stayed in the shadows. It moved forward because people refused not to be seen. They refused to be ignored. They sat at the front of busses, they sat in restaurants, they attended universities, and they were seen. Look at the gay rights movement over the last several decades. Being gay has gone from being something that could likely get you fired from your job to something that will likely get you fired from your job for expressing your own opposition.
Fun fact: These movements were not driven by legislation. They drove legislation. These movements were driven by familiarization and normalization through exposure.
And that is what we need in the gun-rights movement, more exposure. Certainly people see guns in the news every day, but that’s not the exposure I am talking about. I’m talking about in person, close enough to see that guns are just inanimate objects, that when carried by every-day people like you and me don’t just go off and hurt people, or make everyone feel scared. We do not carry to intimidate, or to show off, or to feel important. We carry to protect our families, friends, ourselves, even strangers.
But maybe it still doesn’t feel right. Maybe you agree with the idea that open carrying normalizes and familiarizes through exposure, but you still just don’t feel comfortable doing it. Let me encourage you some. These three things might take the edge off and make you feel a bit less self-conscious about open carrying.
- When I have open carried I have realized that most people don’t seem to notice. It’s hard to tell since people don’t walk around with thought bubbles over their heads, but when looking around I do not see looks of shock, surprise, fear, aw, or even curiosity. You know what I mostly see? People burying their faces in their iPhones. They certainly don’t seem to be eyeing my hip. (Maybe as a rule people just don’t spend a lot of time looking at men’s hips?)
- When I do open carry I make a little bit of extra effort to appear presentable. My normal “uniform” for open carry tends to be khaki slacks, some kind of sensible shoes such as my Salomons, and a black polo shirt. I typically carry my black Glock 19 in a black, kydex holster. Basically I look like a cop. I’m not trying to look like a cop, but I can totally see how one might think that. It’s very natural when you see someone carrying a gun to think, “I wonder if they’re a cop.” Sadly, most people do not know firearms laws very well. When they see someone carrying a gun their first thought is often that the carrier is law enforcement, because why else would they have a gun? They quickly go back to whatever game they were playing on their cell phones, because cop with a gun = situation normal.
- And finally, those people that do notice and don’t think you’re a cop (few as they may be) are most likely other freedom-minded individuals who own and carry guns too. Why else would they know the law well enough to not immediately assume that someone carrying a gun isn’t a cop?
Do I have proof that this is how people think? Not really, but I do have an anecdote which is almost the same thing.
A few days ago I was walking to our local burger place with my wife. I was open carrying my Glock 19, wearing my standard get-up. On our way we got stopped by a neighbor who just wanted to chat for a bit. We had a nice talk, though my stomach was grumbling the entire time. After about twenty minutes my wife mentioned something about furniture and our neighbor mentioned she was looking to sell her dining room table. We went inside to take a look and on our way out of the house she said with surprise in her voice, “You have a gun?”
After 20 minutes of talking and going into her house she had not noticed I was carrying a firearm on my hip. This is not to blame her or denigrate her level of awareness in any way, but it seems to confirm what I said earlier – people just don’t seem to notice. And you’ll never guess what her next question was.
“Are you in law enforcement?”
And then we had a pleasant conversation about firearms, and she got to see firsthand how a regular, every-day civilian can safely, legally carry a gun and the sky did not fall. No one got hurt. SWAT teams did not rope down from helicopters. It was just another normal day.
I do not want to pressure anyone into open carrying anymore than I want to pressure anyone into owning, using, or carrying a gun in any way. If you do not feel comfortable with a firearm in one way or another then I would urge you to study and train until you do. Ignorance and carelessness are the leading causes of firearms incidents – don’t jump into the world of firearms without learning about them first.
But for those of us who are knowledgeable and safe with firearms, I say let’s do this. We cannot rely on the Supreme Court, Congress, or the President to secure our rights for us. Appropriate legislation will follow when it is the popular position, not when it is the right one. If you are looking to affect the political process in a positive way look no further than your OWB holster and favorite, reliable handgun. It might be the most powerful political tool you have.