Laws & Rights
Why Do People Openly Carry Guns?
Open Carry (OC) is like concealed carry (CCW)’s redneck cousin.
Much of the talk surrounding the “and Bear Arms” part of the Second Amendment centers around concealed carry, but there’s another option that some people exercise—open carry. But why do people carry their self-defense handguns openly? That’s the question at the heart of one of my favorite culture-shock stories, told to me by a friend who lives in the willywags of Arizona.
Seems he was having coffee at his favorite diner when a couple of English tourists came in for some breakfast. They hadn’t even gotten their smothered, covered hash browns yet when they started gasping in outraged terror—they’d caught sight of a man in a 10-gallon hat, jeans, battered cowboy boots…and a big ol’ revolver on his hip. Now, you’d think they’d be thrilled, getting to see a real-life cowboy. That would be the equivalent of me getting off a plane in Paris to be greeted by the sight of a mime surrendering to a bunch of German tourists while saying “hon hon hon” and eating a comically oversized baguette. But no, they were pebbling their pants in panic at the sight of that gun. (My pal says they actually left before their food showed up…and that he was glad for their dry-cleaner’s sake that they hadn’t noticed his own big ol’ revolver, too.)
Thing is, even native-born Americans’ reactions to open carry can be just as extreme as those poor befuddled Brits’.
So why do people do it?
1-Because I Can & It’s My Right
Let’s get this one out of the way, because it’s the most salient fact: The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights says “Keep and Bear Arms.” It doesn’t say “As Long As Nobody’s Fee-Fees Get Hurt.” So, for many people who openly carry their self-defense guns, their reasoning is the same one I use for writing these columns in my Jockeys—because I can. (You’re welcome for that mental image, by the way.)
Right now, 45 states allow open carry of some kind. In many of them, it’s not necessary to get a special license to do so; as long as you’re legally qualified to purchase a gun, you can wear it openly. That’s a real plus if you don’t feel like going through the rigamarole of dealing with the same bureaucracy that brought you the DMV.
2-Because I Mostly Carry in the Country
It’s every bit as easy for our coastal cultural elites to forget this as it is for your average hapless English tourist, but most of America is rural. If you’re planning on strolling through your own private acreage or taking a long hike through the backcountry, concealing your defensive handgun is pretty pointless—the bears, rattlesnakes, and rabid foxes of the world aren’t going to be impressed by the tactical advantage of a concealed pistol.
What’s more, having your defensive gun visibly at the ready can and does serve as a deterrent to the types of human bad actors that you might encounter when you’re way out on walkabout. Illegal marijuana grow operations, moonshiners, poachers, and plain old creeps are out there in the deep woods…but that gun on your hip will hopefully encourage them to let you go on about your business.
3-Because I’m Trying to Normalize Open Carry
There’s a movement among some gun owners to normalize open carry as a form of Second Amendment activism. In general, normalization is a powerful way to gain public support for any little-recognized but completely legal activity. (Remember how the success of the reality TV series “Top Shot” encouraged thousands of Americans to try the shooting sports for the first time?) After all, there’s nothing to convince folks that OC is nothing to fear like seeing people do it every day while going about their business.
Interestingly, depending on where you are and how you’re choosing to OC, many people won’t react or even seem to notice. People’s eyes tend to sort of glide over a gun butt sticking out of a belt—they seem to put it in the “That’s probably a cellphone or a multitool or something” category. If they do notice, they seem to just sort of assume that you’re a plainclothes cop or the like.
The key point to remember here is that if you’re going to open carry as a form of pro-Second Amendment activism, remember that the operant part of “normalize” is “normal.” Dress to fit in and behave politely while going about your business as anyone would. As in, maybe don’t go to your local coffeehouse or burrito joint rocking an AR-15 slung at the low ready position.
What’s more, you should know that many law enforcement officers don’t really know the fine points of the gun laws in their jurisdiction. (Yes, yes—that’s a column for another time.) And even if they do, they’re obligated to investigate any reports they get. That means that if someone panicked on seeing your openly carried gun and called 911, the responding officer is going to have to talk to you. Be calm and cooperative; make sure you have your ID and any licensing your state may require for OC. You may even find it worthwhile to print out a copy of the relevant section of your state’s gun laws and keep it in your wallet.
What are your thoughts on open carry versus concealed carry? Tell us in the comments!
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