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:
- Coming out of the closet has it’s price (December 18, 2004)
- Fish Or Man pulls the plug (December 29, 2004)
- Right to chose (October 20, 2008)
- The media can play nice (June 8, 2009)
- Open carry in Bellevue Washington (June 15, 2009)
- The move to a new bunker (July 1, 2009)
- The rest of the story (July 20, 2009)
- Quote of the day–Brannon P. Denning and Glenn H. Reynolds (August 19, 2009)
- Did we just win? (August 19, 2009)
- Quote of the day–Rick Perlstein (August 20, 2009)
- Hiking on Mount Hood (September 13, 2009)
- Quote of the day–Eugene Volokh (October 2, 2009)
- Open carry being used as a political statement (October 24, 2009)
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:
- Say Uncle: Don’t scare white people (April 26, 2007)
- Kim duToit: Open Carry (May 5, 2007)
- Jim: Open Carry in Texas (May 8, 2007)
- Sebastian: Pennsylvania Open Carry Blog (January 28, 2008)
- Sebastian: PSH in Virginia? (February 27, 2008)
- Sebastian: We’ll All Be Open Carrying Soon Enough (March 9, 2008)
- Sebastian: Open Carry Activism (May 12, 2008)
- Sebastian: VCDL Response (May 12, 2008)
- Sebastian: Open Carry Dinner Gone South (May 22, 2008)
- Sebastian: Thoughts on Dickson City (June 2, 2008)
- Sebastian: Open Carry Troubles in Wisconsin (June 5, 2008)
- Sebastian: Positive Article in LA Times on Open Carry (June 7, 2008)
- Sebastian: The Root of Reasoned DiscourseTM (June 9, 2008)
- Sebastian: Open Carry Juvenile? (June 22, 2008)
- Say Uncle: In your face (June 23, 2008)
- Sebastian: The Open Carry Thing (June 23, 2008)
- Alan: More on Open Carry in Texas (June 23, 2008)
- Caleb: State Activism (July 22, 2008)
- Sebastian: Context Again (September 26, 2008)
- Sebastian: We’re A Political Minority, Not a Racial Minority (September 26, 2008)
- Sebastian: More on Open Carry (September 29, 2008)
- Sebastian: Open Carry Loss in Court (October 7, 2008)
- Sebastian: How to Lose Friends and Influence People (October 10, 2008)
- Sebastian: Context Again (October 19, 2008)
- Sebastian: Something for Us to Avoid (November 14, 2008)
- Alan: It’s Time For Open Carry In Texas (December 1, 2008)
- Alan: More on Open Carry in Texas (December 3, 2008)
- Alan: Texas Open Carry Radio Spots (December 4, 2008)
- Lawdog: Texas Open Carry of Handguns (December 7, 2008)
- Alan: Lawdog on Texas open carry (December 8, 2008)
- Caleb & Breda: Open Carry (January 6, 2009)
- Sebastian: Working Together (February 2, 2009)
- Alan: Texas Open Carry Bleg (February 12, 2009)
- Caleb & Breda: More Open Carry (March 10, 2009)
- Sebastian: Take What You Can Get (March 15, 2009)
- Robb Allen: PSH – apparently it comes prepackaged with your welcome to college packet (April 3, 2009)
- Clayton Cramer: Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic (Also a very important paper for reasons other than open carry)
- Sebastian: Signaling and Carrying Firearms (April 7, 2009)
- Sebastian: Clarification on Concealed Carry (April 8, 2009)
- Clayton Cramer: Milwaukee Invites Lawsuits (April 22, 2009)
- Sebastian: Open Carry Issue in Pennsylvania (April 23, 2009)
- Robb Allen: Self defeating (June 5, 2009)
- Robb Allen: Open carry church event? Yup. Just a PR stunt (July 1, 2009)
- Kevin Baker: Open Carry ≠ Public Panic (August 8, 2009)
- Say Uncle: Open Carry (August 10, 2009)
- Robb Allen: As it should be (August 15, 2009)
- Caleb & Breda: Guns and Tea Parties (August 18, 2009)
- Ahab: Gun Nuts Radio: Guns are f***ing cool (August 19, 2009)
- Linoge: first open-carry experience (October 17, 2009)
- Caleb: Man does not break the law (August 17, 2009)
- Robb Allen: Disagreements amongst us (August 19, 2009)
- Breda: Turn off your TV. Do it now. (August 19, 2009)
- Sebastian: Views From Around the Blogosphere (August 19, 2009)
- Tamara: Important Public Service Announcement: (August 20, 2009)
- Alan: On Open Carry and Morality (August 20, 2009)
- Alan, Labrat, Stingray, and TD: Vicious Circle 15 (August 20, 2009)
- Robb Allen: You will respect my AUTHORITAH!!! (Updated) (September 21, 2009)
- Clayton Cramer: How To Lose Friends (October 1, 2009)
- Sebastian: Winning Hearts and Minds in Scranton (October 12, 2009)
- Robb Allen: Open carry is fine, so long as you don’t do it where people can see you (October 12, 2009)
- Robb Allen: Who needs the Bradys (October 12, 2009)
- Eseell: Open Carry, Part the Whatever (October 12, 2009)
- Alan: Sebastian Zumbos Himself (October 12, 2009)
- Clayton Cramer: Whenever I Wonder If Anyone Reads My Shotgun News Columns… (October 13, 2009)
- Caleb: Controversy indeed (October 13, 2009)
- Caleb & Breda: Top 5 Rifles (October 13, 2009)
- Tamara: Yay! Controversy! (October 13, 2009)
- Robb Allen: Linoge harms the Second Amendment cause (October 17, 2009)
- Clayton Cramer: Open Carry in Banks–Not Smart (October 19, 2009)
- Alan, pdb, UJ, Robb and Jason: Vicious Circle 25 – Open Carry (October 23, 2009)
- Alan: Open Carry and Free Riders (October 23, 2009)
- Clayton Cramer: Openly Carrying Guns Can Be Unwise, Even When It’s Legal (October 25, 2009)
- Sebastain: Clayton Cramer Clarifies His Position (October 25, 2009)
- Robb Allen: Stupid is as stupid does (October 25, 2009)
- The Duck: Another Open Carry Discussion (October 26, 2009)
- Lyle @ UltiMAK: More on the Practical Application of Principles (October 26, 2009)
- Ride Fast: Open carry. good for the cause (October 26, 2009)
- Sebastian: Quote of the Day (October 27, 2009)
- Sebastian: A Strategy Toward Acceptance (October 27, 2009)
- Brent: The Sheeple Bleat in Fear (October 28, 2009)
- Linoge: self-aggrandizement (October 29, 2009)
- Linoge: quote of the day (October 29, 2009)
- CTONE: Open carry righteousness (October 30, 2009)
- pdb: Open carry fail (November 2, 2009)
- Ride Fast: Open carry normalization (November 3, 2009)
** 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.