Open carry as a political statement

I’ve been pretty quiet on the big open carry debate that has finally cooled down some. I have open carried a few times and had a few things to say over the years but never took a really strong position:

I have done my blog research* on the topic and am finally ready to take a stand.

On the infighting between pro gun people on the topic I think, for the most part, it was a misunderstanding. If you read the words very literally (it’s difficult for me to do otherwise but I’m not normal in a lot of ways) I don’t find much disagreement in philosophy between the various camps. One side says it is legal, in most cases, as it should be but it’s easy to do something stupid which will make us all look bad and distract from more important matters. Another side says we need to use it or lose it but don’t be a dick about it. About the biggest real difference of opinion was that some said gun retention training might be a moral obligation and others said no it’s not.**

I didn’t read all the comments but I read enough that I’m pretty sure there isn’t very much disagreement at the fundamental levels.

My biggest problem with the entire issue is the infighting. We have external enemies that need to be fought and energy is better expended on them than on people who are really our allies. Agreed, we need to make sure we fight productively and that we don’t waste resources. And I think that is the crux of the matter.

How do we know what is the most effective expenditure of our resources? We can’t really know for certain. We could run a bunch of experiments with different types of political campaigns. But you can’t run an experiment in the same town on two different occasions with a different input variable because you changed the state of the population with the first run. If you run the experiment in two different towns you have the problem of the two different cultures and even individuals within those towns. What worked well in Virgina might very well turn out to be a disaster in nearby D.C. or Chicago. For the most part it’s going to boil down to educated guesses and opinions as to which is the best.

We see people openly carrying and handling guns in a safe and lawful matter probably a 100 or 1000 times more often than the people we want to influence. That experience differential biases our opinions such that we probably have the least reliable opinion on the topic. The anti-gun people have an experience reference point that is closer to that of the population we wish to influence. They are more aware of potential fears and are in a better position to push the “fear buttons” than we are to assuage those fears.

Robb Allen demanded proof that open carry hurts our cause. Sebastian (in the comments) said he didn’t think any focus groups had been done on the topic . That isn’t true. I talked to someone that did a focus group study. I don’t think the results are going to be released. That sort of data is relatively expensive to obtain and can be used by the anti-gun people to fine tune their attacks against us.

I don’t have a lot of information on the study but the basic result was that people see openly carried guns as “deadly force” and threatening/fear-causing which makes it different than gays holding hands, interracial couples, or woman’s bare ankles being visible. Sure, some people are fearful of gay cooties, Jews controlling the world, and their daughter dating a black guy. But it’s pretty easy to point out the silliness of those types of fears. Openly carried guns are different. If they didn’t have at least some real fear inducing properties they wouldn’t be useful for self-defense and as a deterrent against attack. Apparently that fear inducing quality persists to some degree in most people even after repeated exposure with non-threatening people carrying the gun. It may not be rational but people are not rational. Expecting or insisting people be rational is irrational.

Obviously focus group studies weren’t done in every political jurisdiction in the country. It may be that in some locations that is the best expenditure of resources. Virginia Citizens Defense League has had wonderful results. And it was in Virginia the one time I open carried in a public place with many people around for a couple hours.

So, it comes down to sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

This gets us to the question of how we might determine when it might work or how to best make it work. The following needs to be backed up with focus group studies but I think it probably is a pretty good start.

It is my hypothesis that certain conditions enhance the probability open carry will work as a political statement. Below is an enumeration, elaboration, and enhancement of the “don’t be stupid” and “don’t be a dick” suggestions put forth by others. Most of the following apply even if you are just carrying as you go about your everyday business. Whether you intend to or not, in the eyes of much of the public, you are representing all gun owners when you open carry.

  • Open carry at a public demonstration the main topic should be gun rights. Guns at a health-care/abortion/taxes/etc. demonstration is likely to confuse the issue and allow the other side to spin it as intimidation
  • Never allow quick to anger or violence prone people to be associated with your group
  • Vulnerable looking women with children who open carry is better than large, scruffy, young men
  • Save open carry for the “end game” in locations with well established gun rights rather than your “opening move” in hostile territories
  • Small quiet groups with a mix of genders and races are better than large, noisy, homogeneous groups or loners with obscure and/or vaguely threatening signs
  • Desensitization of highly sensitive people requires small levels of exposure–the butt of a gun casually exposed in an IWB holster is less fear inducing than a thigh holster or a rifle in hand
  • Associate the open carry event with activities that give other people lots of “space”–road side litter pickup is not going to be as threatening as picketing a restaurant that prohibits guns on their premises, walking through an empty parking lot is not as threatening as a doing the same thing at a public meeting on a highly volatile issue
  • High quality clothing and gear enhances your image and decreases the fear
  • Consult with a lawyer prior to your event
  • Never risk a “contempt of cop” charge–your interaction with them should be such they can “save face” during the public event
  • You may tell the cops your lawyer is of the opinion the activity is legal but don’t repeat it again and again–let your lawyer convince the judge to give the cops the lecture they so richly deserve
  • Unless you have the full cooperation of your lawyer (such as if you are trying to get arrested) if the cops suggest it would be best for you to leave then politely collect their identifying information, exact words, and accept their invitation to go home without a pavement tasting party
  • Physically cooperate with the police even if you know they are wrong
  • As in all politically/media sensitive situations have a few experienced media people designated to represent your group–less experienced people should refer the media to the more experienced spokesmen

Even if you adhere to all of the above and more you still could mess up the politics. As much as I like to think of myself as an expert on gun rights I’m always amazed at how much I don’t know when I talk to a true professional in the field. I strongly advise you to at least talk to your local gun rights organization to get their opinion on whatever great idea you have for “making a difference”. If they are any good at their job they will be able to explain why something does or doesn’t work and improve your approach.

Ultimately we want carry of all types completely legal and a non-issue in all jurisdictions. As long as it is done safely it should be a personal choice. I don’t know of any gun rights activists who disagrees with that goal. It’s simply a question of how or if we can get to that point.

We can attack the problem in a brute force manner or with a more sophisticated approach that arrives at the solution quicker and with less expenditure of resources. Let’s not be so stupid as to think the same solution is appropriate for every situation.


*Some of the blog posts and podcasts relevant to open carry which I have read:

** I have taken Handgun Retention & Disarming and highly recommend it. But as open carry advocates have pointed out data indicating private citizens are at risk of having their gun snatched is non-existent. If nothing else the class will give you the skills to take a gun from someone that is threatening innocent life with it. Good guys seldom threaten in the same way as bad guys. Either you draw and shoot or you draw and the bad guy withdraws. Hence disarming training is probably more important than rentention training.

If you take such a class bring gloves to protect your hands and wrists. Bring lotion to lubricate and soothe roughed up skin.

4 thoughts on “Open carry as a political statement

  1. The debate cooled down until you just reopened it. 😛

    The question of whether open carry helps or hinders a cause (other than open carry) could be applied to anything. No cause or protest is helped by non-germane issues. Everything else seems to boil down to “don’t be a dumb ass.”

    I don’t really care about the political implications of open carry and whether it scares people or not, my motivations are purely selfish. I want open carry as an option. It gets hot in Texas and Texas’ weird laws about printing and maintaining concealment aren’t easy to follow when it’s 100 degrees. I’m also not concerned about the deterrent effects on crime from open carry vs concealed carry. I carry to protect myself if I need to. If others benefit from that fine, but I don’t care either way.

    I recently open carried in public for the first time in Colorado no one cared. More people seemed worried about the kilt I was wearing than the XD on my belt.

    Maybe that’s the answer… When in doubt wear a kilt, no one will notice the gun.

  2. Except for women. They should go topless.

    On a more serious note I think you at least indirectly care about the political implications of open carry. If someone does some dumb ass thing (or is stupid, is being a dick, etc.) and causes people to be hostile toward gun owners just as appropriate legislation is up for a vote then you are going to be pissed at them if the vote fails by a small margin.

    If open carry is at the top of the priority queue for most gun owners in Texas then talk to your local gun rights organization about it. Find out who or what is the greatest obstacle. Is it one or two people that can’t be convinced? Is it some organization like a police group or something that will block it?

    Once you figure what the obstacles are then you can plot your attack. Before that you just shooting in the dark.

  3. Keep in mind also that certain people (especially media people) are already hostile to you. They’re hostile to you without even having met you. This is what Republicans can’t understand. Our media opposition is going to tell us who they fear most, and by fear (this is important) I mean the fear that you can make them look silly and/or defeat them politically. Their hostile treatment of people like Sarah Palin and several other Republicans over the years tells us that those people are who they fear as political rivals. What we have to understand is that their vicious attacks are guaranteed against anyone who’s being effective or who they see as being effective. They spin the NRA as being the devil incarnate because the NRA is effective, for example.

    Hence, if you’re doing something effective against the anti gun rights movement you will be attacked, maligned and impugned. That’s one sign that you may actually be doing exactly the right things. You could also be doing the wrong things, so the attacks are not, in and of themselves, the sign that you’re doing it right. You have to know yourself, because of your rational and consistent application of principles, that you’re doing the right thing, and then you can take the media attacks or the attacks from rank and file loons as a good sign. Nor do we have to please everyone in order to win. There are some who will never, ever be on our side. They’re idiots. We don’t need them. They don’t deserve the time of day. Don’t let idiots set the rules of engagement. Ignore them.

    I think that the now famous guy with the AR at a tea party, who was reportedly white but wasn’t, actually did a good thing. He got the media to lie about him in a very public way, he looked good, and he did nothing illegal or threatening. That’s a win, and a win is always going to get the ire of the media. If you’re going to judge your actions based on whether the media and the anti libertarians are being nice to you, you’re not only doomed to a life of frustration, but you have a lot to learn about warfare.

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