The Open Carry Experience Part 3: Mindset

This is the third installment in our series on Open Carry. Here are the previous installments: Part 1, Part 2.

I went grocery shopping yesterday. The actual experience was interesting, because no one really said “boo” to me the whole time. No one talked to me about the gun, there were no soccer moms diving for cover as I walked past, all in all it was a pretty boring time. It was also nerve wracking, for two important reasons: 1) when OC’ing, there’s really no excuse for lapsing out of condition yellow; and maintaining condition yellow at all times is exhausting. 2) When Open Carrying, whether I like it or not, I am acting as a representative for literally every other gun owner on the planet by virtue of carrying my gun where people can see it. That is quite a lot of responsibility.

wonka open carry

That’s what really got me thinking today is mindset. When you’re OC’ing, mindset is critical. You are a representative for all gun owners, regardless of whether or not you believe it, or if you want to be. Because your gun is visible, you cannot be the grey man, you can’t blend in to the background. People see you, they know immediately “that guy is a gun owner.”

As a result of that, even small, seemingly insignificant actions become incredibly important. I normally try to have decent manners when I’m out in public, but when I’m representing gun owners? Everything is “please, thank you, yes sir no sir three bags full sir” because the impression I want to leave people with is “what a nice man that was” not “look at that d-bag with a gun, didn’t I just see a news story about a-holes like that?”

The other part of mindset is the situational awareness required to OC safely. Let’s be honest, I am probably not going to get jumped in a HyVee in Sioux Falls…but there are certain things that you should do while OC’ing regardless of your surroundings. The most important is not let people close enough to touch or grab your gun, which can be challenging in a checkout line. You also don’t want to hit stuff with the butt of your gun, or get it snagged on something. That’s a big part of why I use a retention holster for OC, because a far more likely scenario than a gun grab would be my gun catching on something and flopping out on the ground. Then I’d be that guy, and no one likes that guy.

I still have yet to have the cops called on me, and no one, aside from a local OC activist, has even mentioned the gun. The mindset of safely OC’ing is going to be something I focus on pretty continuously during this series, because I really can’t stress enough how much responsibility you carry with you when you Open Carry. Like it not, you are a representative for all gun owners. Be a good one.


  1. Good commentary.

    “Because your gun is visible, you cannot be the grey man, you can’t blend in to the background. People see you, they know immediately ‘that guy is a gun owner.'”

    This probably could use the caveat “if people notice you are carrying the gun at all, then…”

    I’ve been OC-ing as it is convenient for well over a decade now and, like you, I can still count on one hand the number of times I’m aware of being “made.” People just don’t seem to -see- guns if you don’t otherwise draw attention to yourself by your dress or actions (being grey), even in places like gas stations at night or banks where you would think the clerks would be hyperaware.

    Like you say, I always try to dress and act like the neighbor people wish they had, so whether they see it or not I’m still a good example.

  2. “I always try to dress and act like the neighbor people wish they had” Isn’t that open to a wide interpretation? I do believe so. Depends what age group you are in, what ethnicity you are, where you live, what age your neighbors are, the education level, societal standing, the list goes on and on. I imagine the reply will be the average person and there is no such thing. My average is not the same as yours, there are things I would find offensive that others will see as fine.

    1. So if you got new neighbors and they were clean cut, nicely dressed folk of upper middle class status, you’d be pissed?

        1. Who says it does? Appearances matter and perception is effectively reality. Further, do you regularly, say, shop at stores outside your general neighborhood not primarily patronized by people who look and act more or less like you?

          If so, why?

          Even if you shop where people dress and act like thugs or trash then you lose nothing by looking like an off-duty cop.

          Clean non-torn clothes without vulgarities or “blood of tyrants rhetoric” on them, and not spouting the same vulgarities and rhetoric in public, fit in everywhere in day to day life.

  3. Great thoughts!

    Bring two things to mind:
    1. Why is it the vast majority of those doing the OC that I see are exactly NOT the types of representative gun owners most of us would like to see making that public image for us? Most of the time they are completely oblivious to anyone around them except to puff up their chest and try to make it more obvious that they are 2A supporters and “here’s my gun on your face!”.

    2. Just because no one has said anything doesn’t mean they haven’t noticed. I am a firm supporter of cc and do so on a daily basis but still get nervous when I see most people OC in an urban environment. I don’t say anything to them because I figure they are just looking for attention and will make a scene about how it’s their right to carry OC!

    1. 1. Partially because the people that draw attention to their OC are attention whores…excuse me… “2nd Amendment Activists”. They typically don’t carry that way as a way of life, they carry as a way to protest or call attention to themselves.

      2. You should always try to be aware of anyone carrying a firearm regardless of their dress or manner of carry, that is only being responsible for your own safety. However, generally speaking, if someone has a properly holstered pistol and is dressed in a clean-cut manner, they will likely not be threatening even if they are carrying a sidearm.

      However, if I were to see someone in baggy pants, with a pistol sticking out of their waistband (no holster) and sporting a menacing or irregular demeanor, I am more likely to put a lot of distance between us as quickly as possible.

  4. For me personally, I feel Open Carry should be legal in all states, as should CC (and now is, though not justly). Personally I would only desire to Open Carry if the attire/season does not allow me to conceal comfortably. Not a fan of pocket carry an ankle rigs don’t work with shorts, neither do shoulder holsters with just a t-shirt. The only time I open carried was while doing a hike in open country summer weather. Not because I was concerned about criminal behavior, more so for the possibility of dangerous snakes or other non-human lifeforms. Here’s a question: If my holster is partially visible in an open carry and conceal carry state (and I have the permit), but not fully visible, am I breaking any law? Does Open Carry require full visibility is really more the question? I realize in many states, if I am visible at all or printing, then I am violating carry conceal law.

    1. What state do you live in? The answer can vary greatly between states, even when CC and OC are both legal in some form.

  5. As I’ve said before, I would like the option to OC, even though I feel it’s a bad decision the vast majority of the time. I don’t want to CC when hiking or fishing (especially in sweaty Texas weather), and if there is some sort of civil disturbance (as unlikely as it might be), I would definitely want the option.

    Thanks for putting yourself under the microscope.

  6. Dan June 11, 2014 at 11:30 :

    I once had a cop buddy (20 years on the job and counting) tell me the next time he arrests someone carrying a pistol in a decent holster will be the first time. (Of course he then joked, “That’s because I don’t work Internal Affairs.”)

    I’ve had other cops tell me that statement is true, even with the deletion of the word “decent”.

  7. This is a response to Daniel S.:

    Dan, in Idaho, if the weapon(s) (does not need to be a handgun, but any “deadly” weapon) is/are recognizable as such by casual observation, then said weapon(s) is/are being carried openly. If not, they are concealed.

    A weapon that is obstructed from view by an item not considered clothing, that would otherwise not be considered concealed, is still not concealed. This applies to leaning against walls, carrying a bag, etc.

    It’s nice to live in Idaho!

  8. I know you’re writing for a much larger audience than Sioux Falls, but as a SF resident, I’m really enjoying reading about your experiment. I do suspect though that you may be gathering attitudes about dressing respectably as much as you are about OCing.

  9. I have never open carried. But I wonder if people see you carrying they might think your an off duty cop, or a detective. That’s why the police don’t get called 99% of the time.

    BTW I’m not saying YOU specifically, just when people OC. Just something I have wondered.

    1. I regularly OC, and even though I dress like an adult and act accordingly, I don’t look ANYTHING like a cop. I still get that response from time to time. I think some of it is laziness on the part of the observer.

  10. Based on what you say about responsibility and situational awareness, I’d almost advocate OC in place of CC, if I thought it would have that same effect.

    But as I’ve argued elsewhere, it’s a form of prior restraint. Mainly, when I’m talking about prior restraints I’m worried about the idiots in that video going into a Chiles or Taco Bell, and I suspect I’d feel comfortable around the post’s author, for example. But I don’t think that is reason to keep OC legal.

  11. “there‚Äôs really no excuse for lapsing out of condition yellow; and maintaining condition yellow at all times is exhausting.”

    Just get in the habit of a check every 30 seconds to a minute–regardless of carry mode. I do this when I’m disarmed by law. People still need time to walk up to you. It takes awhile to get used to, but it works and is not so tiring.

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