I have always been a fan of the concept of open carry, i.e. not making a concerted effort to conceal your legally carried firearm. It was definitely part of why I enjoyed living in Virginia so much, because the good Commonwealth of Virginia allows all her citizens that are legally entitled to own a firearm to carry openly without a permit. On top of that, thanks in part to the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Virginia as a state has a relatively thriving open carry culture, in that it is not an unusual thing to see openly armed people strolling about. My current state of residence (Indiana) also allows open carry if someone has a permit, however although technically legal it seems to be rather rare up here.
Open carry is one of those issues that creates a bit of a divide with the gun owning community. If you go on any number of firearms related boards, you’ll find people adamantly opposed or supportive of open carry, with good arguments on either side of the table. I want to take a brief look at both sides of the issue, as well as offering my own thoughts.
Historically, there was a time when open carry was no big deal, especially in the western parts of the country. During the 1800s through the early 1900s; it was still a relatively common sight to see someone going about armed openly. However, as the country began to grow increasingly “modernized”, the armed man on the street became less and less common. I am not a deep enough scholar of history to know what prompted the relatively nationwide and rapid change in perception of an armed person; suffice to say that by the time I was born, open carry was relatively unheard of in most (there were some notable exceptions) areas.
Additionally, throughout the 1980’s and into the ’90s, concealed carry was relatively rare as well; the tidal wave of states passing right to carry legislation is a rather new (and awesome) phenomenon which in addition to creating a whole new market for sub-compact handguns, has once again brought attention to the issue of open carry.
Open carry does have some demonstrable benefits, both from a tactical point of view and a comfort level point of view. Tactically speaking, open carry allows you to carry a larger, more powerful firearm; most of us agree that if you can have big bullets in your gun, you probably should. Open carry allows you to carry that larger more powerful pistol; it also allows you to get at your pistol in faster than a deep concealed handgun.
From a vanity standpoint, open carry also means that you’ll never have to wear one of those silly-ass looking “Tactical-Concealment vests”, or whatever they’re called. Along that same line, open carry is better for…smaller people, like me. I’m only 5’6, which means that concealing even a Glock 19 can be a bit of a hassle, much less my GP100.
So, quick review of the good stuff about open carry: Bigger gun, faster access, you won’t have to dress silly to conceal your firearm, and if you’re small you can carry a decent sized iron.
Unfortunately, there are some pretty severe downsides to the whole open carry thing. The negatives to concealed carry generally don’t have anything to do with the tactical situation, but rather how people (threats and otherwise) react to seeing an armed person in the midst.
I can say quite safely that if I’m out on the farm, or in the town around the farm, that the reaction would be quite different that if I was strolling around downtown Indianapolis with a GP100 tied on. Someone very well might call the police and report a “man with a gun”; which is not a fun encounter to have with your local constabulary. If you get a cop that’s well educated on the laws of the area (and you’re legal, of course), then you should be fine – however the flipside of that is there is just as much a chance that you’re going to end up on the deck in handcuffs while they “sort things out”. This is not police bashing, far from it; the police as a general rule take “man with a gun” calls rather seriously (as well they should).
The second major disadvantage is what is generally referred to as the “shoot-me-first” syndrome, i.e. you’re in the grocery store and a maniac with a Tec-9 begins shooting the place up. The “Shoot me first” advocates say that because your weapon isn’t concealed, you become an immediate target for said badguy; your unconcealed firearm makes you the most likely threat to his mission.
If you do choose to open carry, be very, very, very, very, very, very, very aware of the laws of any locality you may be in. Virginia and Indiana are both states where localities cannot preempt state law, however your area may be different.
I like open carry, and I wish that it’s something that I could do more often. I’d rather carry my GP100 than the P22 or a snubnosed revolver, it’s just not always an option. The problem is that I would very much like to be able to open carry, and not worry about the reactions of the people around me; it would be marvelous if we lived in a world where it was acceptable for men and women to go about their daily business under arms.
However – we don’t. For someone that chooses to be armed, the reactions of people around us are something that we must take into account; with the great amount of vast nanny-staters, Suzy Soccermoms, and the generally poor general perception of gun owners as rednecks and trigger happy loons, it would most likely behoove us to keep our heaters under wraps unless we need them for something. Unless of course you live in Virginia, or another place where open carry is relatively common and accepted.
Just don’t make me wear one of those vests.