Open carry is once more in the news since Texas passed an open carry statute. Given the generally unmentioned fact that Texas now becomes approximately the fortieth state to pass an open carry law, there doesn't really seem to be much to argue about but the usual suspects are making the arguments anyway. I'm not going to address the typical anti-gun argument as they are the same specious arguments that they have been making since Florida passed their ground-breaking concealed carry law in the 1980s (in case you were wondering, "blood in the streets, arguments turning deadly, yada, yada, yada"), instead I want to address the comments from pro-gun supporters which generally fall into three categories. After which I want to address some of the reasons for allowing open carry.
1) It should be legal but only stupid people open carry
2) If you open carry you have a chip on your shoulder and are trying to prove a point
3) If you open carry you are just making yourself a target
4) If you open carry you are just scaring people
Argument 1: Well, not really an argument, just an insult, so not much to say here. You'd be surprised how often you see this comment made on gun forums.
Argument 2: Sort of goes with argument 1 in that evidence is never presented and basically the argument is just an insult. What I find especially interesting is that I personally know dozens of people who openly carry firearms to some extent, and not one of them is trying to prove a point or has a chip on their shoulder. How these commenters have divined the mental state of the person they observed is never mentioned.
Argument 3: This is a rational sounding argument that is not backed up by any facts or data whatsoever. In the seven years that I have been involved in the open carry community I have seen exactly one news story in which someone attacked an open carry in an effort to take their gun. I have seen zero news stories in which an open carrier was killed first as the prelude to a shooting rampage.
What we have seen is mass shootings taking place almost exclusively in "gun free zones", areas where guns are prohibited either by law (schools and universities) or by choice (businesses which actively discourage or prohibit guns from being brought into their establishments). This is not, in my opinion, coincidence. Mass shooters want the publicity that comes with killing a lot of people. You don't get much news coverage if your story reads "attempted murderer shot after wounding one person". Since criminals are generally rational and perform the same risk analysis as do the rest of us when planning their actions, what is a more likely scenario? The criminal sees a man with a gun (or a police officer) and decides to shoot them first, hoping to be able to kill them so as to have free reign with everyone else; or criminal sees MWAG or PO and decides to go somewhere where there won't be anyone potentially shooting back?
The evidence suggests the latter.
Argument 4: Another rational sounding argument but one which again doesn't stand up to the facts. Most people are only scared of guns because they never see them except in the hands of criminals via Hollywood. Given the opportunity to see normal people carrying a firearm they either don't react negatively at all, or they figure out that it is perfectly legal and their opinions are changed.
Anecdotal evidence in support of this theory. Open carry has been legal in Washington state for at least twenty years although most people, including police departments, were unaware of this. A court case affirmed this right a few years ago when a man was walking down the street with an armful of rifles wrapped in a towel, to take them to the local pawnshop. He was not waving them around and no one was threatened. He was stopped by police and a court case ensued. He won. About seven years ago opencarry.org was founded to promote this right. At first it was as predicted in argument 3. People were worried and called the police. The police didn't know the law and showed up to harass or arrest the carriers. Over the course of the past few years, however, something interesting happened. The police got educated and stopped harassing open carriers, police dispatchers got educated and started asking citizens questions like "what are they doing with the gun?" and then informing the citizens that it was OK to have a holstered firearm as long as you weren't threatening anyone, and people got used to seeing us out and about.
I can honestly say that I have never seen a single person act "scared" when they saw my gun. I have had people come up to me and ask what I carried and talk about firearms, I have had people come up to me and get in my face about how I am scaring people (although how scared can you be if you get in the firearm owner's face about it), and I have had people say nothing and just walk by.
Although I am not arguing that there aren't people who are nervous and perhaps choose to go elsewhere, that is their problem not mine. I have an equal right to be out and about, and their issues are not my problem, any more than someone with agoraphobia's inability to go to the mall is my problem.
What we have actually accomplished is that there are far more people in Washington state who now know that, contrary to what they see on TV and in movies, that normal everyday people carry firearms for a variety of reasons.
One of my frustrations about the makers of these arguments is that they don't seem to realize that they are basically repeating similar arguments made by people opposed to carry against concealed carry. People who carry guns are stupid rednecks and are compensating for something; you are more likely to be killed with your own gun than to defend yourself; etc. Having basically won the argument for concealed carry, they are rephrasing their opponents in an effort to undermine a method of carry that they choose not to exercise. It is self destructive.
Finally let me make one last quick point about open carry and why I believe it is beneficial, above and beyond the arguments made above. One of the issues with concealed carry is that it is almost impossible to completely conceal a firearm at all times. If the weather is warm a shirt will show an outline of the covered firearm. If you are wearing a jacket, reaching for your wallet can move the jacket enough to expose the covered firearm. Numerous court cases exist around the country where concealed carry permit holders were arrested and charged for allowing their firearms to be seen under the premise that "concealed means concealed". I have had issues with stopping while on a motorcycle trip and wanting to remove layers of clothing as the day warmed. How exactly do you remove a jacket and sweatshirt without exposing the concealed firearm hidden underneath? You can't. Open carry laws allow even those who choose to carry concealed to not have to worry about being charged for an inadvertent exposure.
So, why carry at all? A subject for another post, but briefly, people have a natural right to self defense. This right predates the formation of governments and organized society. Society can not protect the individual and in fact there have been court cases where it was ruled that society does not have an obligation to protect the individual, only the society. Since police can not be everywhere at all times (and I don't know that we would want a society where they were) we have both an obligation and a right to defend ourselves and our families from attack. The most effective way to accomplish this is to be proficient and ready to use a firearm. You can practice situational awareness, you can try to avoid high crime areas, you can avoid places where you are more likely to be mugged or attacked, but you can't predict with 100% certainty that you will never be in the wrong place at the wrong time. At that time I, for one, will feel better knowing that I took the precaution of being able to at least have a chance at defending myself and my friends.