10 Steps for Successful Open Carry Activism

With Open Carry still making headlines, it’s time to take a look at how Open Carry can be successfully used as a tool to further gun rights. There are definitely right ways and wrong ways to Open Carry, and unfortunately too many people do it the wrong way. Here is the Gun Nuts Guide to Successful Open Carry.

1. Don’t be a dick
Honestly, if you can accomplish step 1, you’re way ahead of the power curve. We lost Starbucks specifically because people were being dicks. If you have to ask yourself “is action X being a dick?” then the answer is probably yes and you should not do it. Don’t provoke confrontations, don’t get up in people’s faces, and don’t give the cops a reason to think you’re a clown.

2. Have a goal beyond “just open carrying”
Open Carry worked in Virginia because the VCDL used it as a tool to illustrate the silliness of Virginia’s restaurant carry laws. Open carry in this case was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Open carry will probably work in Florida because Florida Carry is using OC as a tool to illustrate the silliness of Florida’s carry law. They have a goal beyond “just open carrying.” OC didn’t work in California because there was no legitimate political goal that could be achieved by the use of open carry.

3. Don’t go looking for trouble
This goes hand in hand with number 1, but is a category all by itself because of the number of people who saddle up and OC guns specifically so they can record themselves getting in confrontations with the police. Then they post on their OC message board about how they got hassled by The Man. Seriously, don’t be that guy. Just don’t.

4. Dress like a grown-up
If you are going to OC, people are going to see your gun and by default you will be considered representative of the gun culture.

Glock 21 Open Carry Wal-Mart (600x800)

The photo, sourced from USA Carry via a simple google search is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with OC appearance. I don’t know this guy from Adam, and I’m sure here’s a really nice dude in real life, but if you’re going to OC, don’t wear a ratty tank-top.

5. Get some gun retention training
Cops open carry every day. Cops are also trained to defend themselves from gun grabs. Be prudent. Get training.

6. Use a retention holster
Cops also use retention holsters. The Safariland ALS is $40 and is one of the best retention holsters on the planet. Its retention mechanism is a huge step up over a thumb-break of the push button on a SERPA, but even the SERPA is preferable to carrying in a non-retention holster openly.

7. Don’t proselytize people.
The goal of smart OC shouldn’t be the act of OC’ing itself. It should be part of a greater goal, as mentioned above. With that in mind, don’t be the 2nd Amendment equivalent of an annoying street preacher who goes around bible-thumbing people. That guy is annoying, and no one likes him. The best memory that Joe and Jane average can have of you when you’re open carrying is “what a nice and reasonable person”; people don’t get that memory when you’re trying to “educate them about the 2nd Amendment.”

8. Just go about your business
I have to give some props here to the guy pictured in the photo. Other than his attire, he’s doing an excellent job at OC, because according to the thread he’s simply carrying his gun as a part of his normal activities. He’s not carrying a long gun into Starbucks to make a point, he’s not parading around in public parks yelling “LOOK AT MY GLOCK” to the local LEOs, he’s just grocery shopping. That’s awesome. But seriously, buy a shirt with sleeves and a collar.

9. Be polite to the police
In general, the average rank and file beat cop is neutral or even friendly to the gun issue. So when the police get called on you, don’t be that guy who refuses to show ID and only ask “am I being detained?” That guy is a jerk. Those cops have a lot better things to do than deal with some obstinate OC clown, so when the police come, be nice. 99% of the time that will result in a positive encounter. The 1% of the time where it doesn’t, you were the nice guy and didn’t cause problems, so you’ll be okay in the long run.

And finally we come to 10. Don’t be a dick
This is so important it needs to be said twice. Many of the points here are directly related to not being a dick. Remember, when you OC you’re not just representing yourself and other OC advocates, but to the general public you’re representing gun owners as a whole. Be a good representative.


  1. We almost had OC in Florida but the OC fanatics scared the legislature. And I don’t mean they scared the Democrats, they scared the Republicans. Its a perfect example of what happens when you don’t follow “Caleb’s ten step program”.

  2. Excellent, excellent list. I agree with everything except this:

    “OC didn’t work in California because there was no legitimate political goal that could be achieved by the use of open carry.”

    No, the legitimate political goal was showing the silliness of California’s carry law. Just because it failed doesn’t mean there wasn’t a goal.

  3. If only everyone who felt the need to OC could read and follow this. The one area I may offer some disagreement is with number nine.

    Being polite to LEOs is not the same thing as doing everything they say and/or freely relinquishing your rights. Police have a difficult job and most of their day they’re dealing with criminals, scumbags, and all sorts of nastiness, so the right thing to do is to be as nice and as pleasant as possible. However, providing your ID is not something you need to do and speaking to the police is an “at your own risk” activity in a lot of cases.

    I’ve spoken to a couple lawyers and have seen several talk about speaking with police, including one who’s business revolves around firearms. All of them say to not speak to the police. Hell, even guys like Massad Ayoob only advise saying a few very specific things to the cops.

    It’s important to note this has NOTHING to do with the nice officer’s intentions. He may only be there because someone called them and they have to be there. He may love guns, love open carry, and want to join you when he gets off duty. He could have no malicious intent whatsoever, but his bosses are the ones who decide what your words mean and how they’re manipulated in court. On top of that, I have seen LEO’s who aren’t familiar with the laws, their powers as a peace officer, or the rights of those they speak with, detain, whatever. That will make things even worse if that officer turns out to be less then honest and won’t admit his mistake(s) in court.

    In my state you’re only required to “identify yourself.” Which is as simple as saying “My name is…” It’s perfectly fine to politely say to the officer “I’m sorry officer, but I’m only required to identify myself unless I’m being detained. My name is X, am I free to go?” You’re both polite and complying with the law at the same time. If the officer insists or dodges the question by continuing to talk you can politely wait for him to stop talking and simply repeat yourself.

    Just like there’s no reason to be a jerk or confrontational about it there is no reason to comply more then the law requires. Not because the evil jack booted patrolmen is out to get you, but because his politically motivated and elected boss may be.

  4. Excellent commentary. This should be drilled into anyone seeking to OC. This should make it absolutely crystal clear that Caleb is NOT against open carry, but instead, against open displays of public DICKNESS! At all times, be polite, courteous, respectful, say ma’am and sir, and help the lady with kids in the back of her van on the side of the road with a flat tire. As I’ve mentioned before, I OC frequently as a matter of physical necessity. It is even more imperative to practice and display situational awareness. Do NOT deviate from your standard demeanor. That is, unless you typically ARE a DICK. In that case, YOU are the problem. Do everything to draw attention to your smile (dicks typically scowl, not smile), not your hip. And make sure that the empty space you’re carrying is reserved for the tip of your JHP round, not your cranial cavity.

    Concerning step #7: I am a Christian minister, and my faith is more important to me than ANYTHING, That is actually the driving force behind my desire to be armed in defense of myself, family, and neighbor. I will support a street preacher’s “right” to proselytize, but have no sympathy for him. I “proselytize” in the way that I react with others on a daily basis. If anyone asks me a question, I will politely answer, be it regarding my faith, or my weapon. However, I will NEVER attempt to assault one with my deeply held personal convictions about my faith, Why in the world would I, or ANYONE, think it wise, prudent, or effective, to assault an unwilling participant, by proselytizing for Open Carry.

    If you are inclined to open carry, take Caleb’s 10 steps to heart, and leave your dick in its holster.

  5. How does this convince someone who open carries in a way you do not like to modify their behavior? Your tone does nothing but cause them to emotionally entrench into their current position. You have no power to stop them from open carrying and they’ll only do it harder in the way you do not like.

    1. Where did you read Caleb indicate he would have everyone conform to his liking? Are you sure you read the same article that I did?

      Tom: “Your tone does nothing but cause them to emotionally entrench into their current position.”

      “Your Honor, it wasn’t my fault I shot the old hag. She had it commin’ to her. I didn’t like the way she talked to me.”
      Does that sound about right?

      Tom: “You have no power to stop them from open carrying and they’ll only do it harder in the way you do not like.”

      Let me get this straight. Caleb has NO power in PREVENTING one from being a DICK, but Caleb apparently has all the the power in the world to CAUSE one to become a DICk? Does that seem to sum it up succinctly?

      Caleb, I knew you had the power to rub some people the wrong way, but I’m actually a little jealous of this superpower you’ve been keeping from us.

      1. The fact of the matter is a negative advocacy piece will not convince someone to change their behavior. I try to convince them to only OC for political purposes in a group. I have had better success by being nice and explaining how their behavior reflects negatively on our cause. I use California’s OC ban as an example. Caleb’s violation of his own first rule shuts the conversation down and they expand their OC activities.

  6. I’d also emphasize #4. Most of us are men. Sure, there are women gun rights activists, but most of us are guys. We are going to secure our gun rights, and those of our grand children’s grand children by getting average, middle class Moms on board. They, like most people, couldn’t distinguish OC from CC from OJ. All they see are the guns. The more they see guys who look like men they basically trust, men who aren’t crazy, men who fit in with the rest of society, men who look like they’re part of the middle class, the easier it will be for them to see guns in and of themselves as non-threatening. And people make quick but lasting judgements about you by what you wear. I hate it. It stinks. But it’s true. Do I make a quick trip to the grocery store in my Tac Lite Pros that have paint on them and frayed cuffs, and a t-shirt with some logo on it that I “think” was washed? Absolutely. And I’m carrying concealed when I do. And people that see me probably think I’m kind of a slob and they never see my gun. But if I were going to take part in an important political expression — as gun rights are — I would make as sure as I can that I’m on my A game. Clean chinos. A nice, collared shirt. Put on clean shoes. Lose the baseball cap and the camo. Your clothes have to tell people that you’re a grown up, stable, successful and have a big stake in our society. Think of the old pictures of the civil rights marchers. A lot had on white shirts and ties with dress pants. They projected stability, not a threat. I don’t think we need ties, but if it meant we’d see a Million Armed Mom March in ten years, I’d do it. Then I’ll go back to the Tac Lites and let them were the clean pants.

  7. I agree with you, generally speaking, depending on the jurisdiction. There are countless cases of “big city cops” falling into the 1% cop catagory, which, if you live in a big city, the 1% cops are in your reality likely to be 99% of the cops. Seattle PD comes to mind.

    Being polite regardless of the circumstances of the encounter, or the cops demeanor, only helps your cause, in the long run. It certainly does not mean that you would be “OK” in the long run. The time, effort, and money is only a part of the story. A 1% cop (or his department/the city) getting sued certainly does not impart a positive image of OCers in that cop. Nor is it likely to impart a positive image to some of his fellow cops. But, that would be the OCer’s fault…..right? I mean, cops have a job to do and sometimes they are darned if they do and darned if they don’t.

    The 1% cops look just like the 99% cops and respect begets respect. If a 99% cop makes contact with me, a nice OCer, I certainly hope that a positive result manifests itself. There are no guarantees in life though. If a 1% cop makes contact with me that 1% cop will encounter a very circumspect OCer.

    By the way, your use of d**k should have been applied to the 1% cops as well because the 1% cops can be d**ks too.

  8. These are great! One point. The VCDL had an advantage in that Open Carry was already legal throughout the state and was actually mandatory if you entered a restaurant that served alcohol.

  9. A term has occured to me: Cargo Cult Activism. This is where one does stuff that looks to them like successful political activism, but doesn’t actually work, and may make things worse. I would point readers to Richard Feynmann’s essay on ‘Cargo Cult Science’ for more background.
    Now, how can one tell when one is caught up in Cargo Cult Activism?

    1) More focus on Idealogical Purity over getting the message out to people that disagree. When the response to “I support open carry but think advocates need to tone it down a notch” is “CLOSETGUNBANNERSHALLNOTBEINFRINGED!111!”… yeah.

    2) A glowing lack of knowledge of how the political system actually operates. Our legal system is more akin to the Mideval Catholic system of offical interpretations than the later Protestent system of private interpretation, with the Judical branch as theologians.

    3) A callous disregard for the preceptions of those on the outside. When one is working more to ‘shock the squares’ than to acutally win them over.

    4) Sheer Pragmatic Lazyness. Walking into Starbucks with an AR is easy. Writing letters, calling reps, posting ads, studying the law, knocking on doors, paying lawyers, again and again for days and days is hard work.

    5) An inability to apply self critism. It is natural to want to justify everything one does. But, it is also natural to try to justify glaring flaws, ones that are very obvious to outsiders.

  10. I am an OC advocate in Texas. I have carried my rifles and shotguns here since I was a small boy.
    We never had the issues then that we are having now.
    Apparently the city thinks that since they have annexed the land, the threats of feral pigs, packs of wild dogs, coyotes and just nut bag people have left and moved further out…. Wrong answer!
    As far as not being a dick, I concur to a point. That line gets crossed when an officer of the law shows up demanding to see my ID and or weapon serial number. Then not only will I not comply, but will argue till blue in the face and force this untrained officer to bring out his supervisor or put me in the squad car and go for a ride.
    As far as the way I am dressed, what does it really matter? If I am hunting with my flip flops and shorts on with the rattiest (most comfy) t shirt I own, and I walk down the road to take the shortcut to get home, who made y’all the judges on if I am “appropriately attired” to represent OC?
    The only point you made that I can agree with is the “don’t be a dick” point, and that will only last until lone of our civil servants cross that line. He will then receive all of the venom and dickyness that I can muster.
    You sir, can tow whatever civil lines that you would choose. But how dare you ever think that you are in such a position to pass judgement on anyone else for choosing the way that they see fit to go about it.

  11. Pretty good rules. Those that OC are usually people who are looking for attention, “look at me! I have a gun on! I’m a tough guy…you know cuz I have a gun.” Just get your carry permit, put your shirt over your gun and be a normal guy.

    And listen. Cops don’t go work and look for OC people. THEY KNOW THAT IT’S LEAGLE. They get dispatched to the call and the caller usually calls it in as, “MAN WITH A GUN” if cops didn’t respond to that call with a little urgency and take it seriously then they wouldn’t be doing their job.

    1. Rob, with all due respect, you could NOT be more wrong. I OC quite often. I NEVER OC with the intent to seek attention. As a matter of fact, I go out of my way to minimize any attention. For several reasons, it is not always possible for me to conceal. There is one, and ONLY one, reason I OC: self preservation. It is NEVER to “make a statement”.

      This entire thread is rather ridiculous. Caleb merely offered his opinion concerning OC etiquette. He was not condemning the act of OC, but merely suggesting how to do it honorably. OC should not be the subject of activism, but instead, the practice of those seeking to protect themselves, family, neighbors, and community. Perhaps I should introduce myself at a 12 step meeting with “my name is Ed, and I OC.

  12. I’m not too sure about #2.

    I’ve open carried without a goal plenty, but on the other hand I wasn’t trying to be an activist either.

    Around here (Prescott, AZ) the war is basically won. What gun laws we’ve got are tolerable and the general public seems reasonably desensitized the sight of a holstered gun. So… is there any reason I shouldn’t just carry and not sweat too much about concealment?
    (and yes, I still try not to be a dick or look like a scumbag, and I do pay attention to retention issues)

  13. Your points are interesting, but you have to understand that sheepdogs aren’t always friendly to the sheep. We’re there to protect, not to create pleasant feelings. In my operations theater, the gangbanger wolves have to understand right away that Gecko_45 is the sheepdog. I open carry-operate with two of the finest weapons systems available on either hip, the Masterpiece Arms MAC-10 and the Kel-Tec PLR-16. Operating in the retail refreshment area with the MAC-10 on the side of my hip keeps the foolish gangbangers stepping in the right direction. Just last month, I was forced to get extremely tactical outside the Hot Topic establishment with two young men who were probably affiliated with MS-13. After one attempted to lift my PLR-16 from its drop-leg retention holster, I had to employ my MAC-10 to neutralize the threats. While the sheep passing by were frightened and later litigious, I felt the collateral damage was acceptable for the mission objectives.

    Keep operating.

  14. “I don’t know this guy from Adam, and I’m sure here’s a really nice dude in real life, but if you’re going to OC, don’t wear a ratty tank-top.”

    Isn’t that the time to OC because the tank-top can not conceal the firearm?

    “That’s awesome. But seriously, buy a shirt with sleeves and a collar.”

    Ah, so we should conform to social standards? Shouldn’t we get rid of the gun then?

    Going to the grocery store isn’t an act of activism. It shouldn’t be. It’s just going to the grocery store. No need to dress up for that. Exercising ones rights doesn’t mean one should have to act as a lobbyist and spokesman every time you need a jug of milk.

    Normalization does more good than activism.

    1. I’m amazed at how many people are so close to getting the point, only to have it slip through their fingers. People should absolutely just carry their guns in a normal way, but if you’re going to openly carry your gun, that means people will mentally associate you with gun owners. Since they’re making the association for you, it is in all of our best interests for people open carry to look as “normal” as possible.

      Including not dressing like a slob.

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