I was at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe yesterday, open carrying my Wilson Combat X-TAC 1911. The moment my daughter and I walked in we immediately ran into trouble. She was sipping on a fresh watermelon juice; verboten libation in the surgically clean minimalist museum. A friendly lady of a certain age sold us tickets, described the exhibits and advised Lola to put her drink in a locker. As we approached the designated drink storage space a security guard sitting by the door began whispering into his headset cord. Uh-oh . . .
We headed back to the main museum, looking forward to exploring New Mexico’s vibrant culture and violent history. Another security guard stopped us.
“Excuse me sir,” he said. “Do you mind stepping over here for a moment?”
A Terry stop in a museum. Great.
“My name is [redacted]. I’m the Sergeant here.”
Who knew museum guards had ranks? I felt like saluting. But I didn’t. I introduced myself, shaking his hand.
“I see you’re carrying a gun. May I ask why?”
A part me wanted to say, no, you may not ask. My decision to exercise my natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms is no more your business than it’s my business why you aren’t carrying a firearm.
“I checked the doors as I came in,” I said, operating under the assumption that discretion (i.e., ignoring his question) was the better part of valor. “I didn’t see a ‘no guns’ sign. Are firearms prohibited here?”
“I’m not sure,” he answered. “I’ve called my boss. Do you mind waiting over here for a few minutes?”
Lola rolled her eyes.
“Look,” I said. “How about I put my shirt over my gun? Would that be OK?”
Anyone remember the Star Trek episode The Changeling? Aliens reprogram a deep space probe called NOMAD to sterilize imperfection. Nomad mistakes Captain Kirk for its creator. Kirk instructs Nomad to sterilize itself. The logic loop kills the thing.
The same process afflicted the perplexed security guard. Open carry is bad! Concealed carry is OK. An open carrier who then conceals is bad! Or is he OK? Or is he bad? The Sergeant at arms somehow found the nerve/common sense/courage to send us on our way. Judging from our subsequent escorts, he instructed his team to shadow us from a distance and, presumably, monitor us on closed circuit TV.
Looking back, I could have refused to identify myself to the Museum guard. I could have retrieved my iPhone and videoed the encounter. I could have “schooled” the security guard on my gun rights (i.e., take your “why” and shove it). I could have chosen not to cover my firearm. But I decided to walk a gentler path. Did I do the right thing? I’m not sure.
As far as the museum staff was concerned, a cleanly dressed open carrier came into the museum, paid his money, respected the staff, compromised on his carry method, toured the exhibits and went away without tsuris. The next time an open carrier enters the Museum, maybe they’ll leave him or her alone.
Maybe not. Maybe I set a precedent whereby the Museum’s security guards will ask open carriers to cover their weapons, which they are not legally obliged to do. Which could, in fact, lead the gun owner to break the law. [You can open carry in NM without a license; concealed carry requires a license.]
I fully understand and appreciate open carriers who push the outside of the envelope. I reckon Jim Cooley did the gun rights movement a favor when he carried an AR-style rifle into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Gun muggles got the vapors, of course. But nothing happened. No one was harmed in the making of his political point. That lesson will sink in, eventually.
At the same time, open carriers who dress well, speak and act politely and yes, compromise on their right to remain anonymous and/or silent are making headway. They educate nervous fence sitters, proving by example that “regular” people carry guns openly. Which fundamentally alters the gun rights perspective of these initially antagonistic Americans.
It’s not either or. It’s both “aggressive” open carry and “civil” open carry. Which is how I rolled in the Land of Enchantment. And how I’m going to roll in Austin when open carry arrives in the New Year. That said, I face a constant problem with open carry: almost everyone mistakes me for a cop. They don’t believe me when I say no M’am I’m just another armed American. But it’s true. And, hopefully, increasingly common.