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August 24, 2012
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Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief 10-43: Be Advised...
with Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief

Guys with guns: Police contacts with open carry advocates

Many of these folks are well-versed in the law, but they fail to comprehend that plenty of citizens out there are just plain scared of “guys with guns” walking in and out of their local coffee shop

We’ve had two news items on police contacts with so-called open carry advocates in the span of about a week. We’ve covered the topic of law enforcement response to open carry folks in the past, but the issue certainly merits a few moments of our time once again.

Regular readers of this space know that I strongly support the responsible, vetted, trained, legally-armed citizen’s Second Amendment rights. I believe that most of these folks are well-meaning people who simply want to “demonstrate” their rights under the law, such as it is, wherever that is.

Problem is, though, a certain number of open carry advocates seem to be actively trying to engage a confrontation with law enforcement so they can post video of their encounter to the Internet. This is where my ‘support’ for open carry individuals ends.

Conservatives Using Liberal Tactics
Generally speaking, the folks I encounter in firearms training or at the local range where I practice have a tendency to be on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Most open carry advocates are similarly conservative in nature.

I’m confounded by the fact that the most extreme open carry individuals — those who intentionally try to create videotaped confrontations with cops — have seemingly adopted tactics which historically speaking have been the domain of left-leaning political activists. 

None of these open carry advocates — to my knowledge anyway — has chained themselves to a fence or sat down in the middle of the street, but conducting an organized campaign to antagonize cops and cause inconvenience to fellow citizens is pretty much the domain of the Occupy movement, isn’t it?

Many of these folks are well-versed in the law, and I say good on them for that. But a small segment of the group fails to (or seems to fail to) comprehend that plenty of citizens out there are just plain scared of “guys with guns” walking in and out of their local coffee shop. 

When they show up in numbers — like some bizarre flash mob —essentially they’re moving from Second Amendment advocacy and into First Amendment right to assembly and free speech territory. Taken together, contact with police is inevitable. 

Those Two Recent Incidents
If you haven’t yet seen these two incidents posted here in the past week, it is well worth your time to check them out before we go any further with this discussion. Without getting into deep analysis of each event, it’s safe to say that these two videos — take separately or together — offer some excellent opportunities for training. 

Cop's expert open carry response goes viral

Man arrested for open carry in park

Some Final Thoughts
I recently connected with my friend and PoliceOne colleague Ron Avery about this stuff, and he offered some excellent thoughts to keep in mind. 

“While I do agree with officer safety [issues], I have to look at it from the eyes of ‘what does the law say?’ Too many times I’ve seen officers with a poor understanding of existing law make poor choices on how they choose to handle a situation from an enforcement standpoint.

“Obviously, this type of situation is not going to go away. These people are willing to go to court, fight it, sue departments, and do what is necessary to ensure that their right to bear arms is not infringed.” 

Ron also commented on one of the two recent news items — the one in the park

“If he was within his legal right and willing to do something about it, to the point of filming it, then the officer might better have defused the situation by getting information from the subject and them determining if a crime was indeed committed before pursuing action. Charges could then be filed later.

“He could have been disarmed and released for officer safety and then asked to come to the department to get his weapon if no charges were filed. There were better options available. It’s a tough call but officers need to be able to really know this law and what can and cannot be done.”

As I said, we have covered this matter here on PoliceOne from pretty much every angle.  The abovementioned Ron Avery wrote an excellent article back in April 2011 which I strongly suggest you revisit.

In some cases, these open carry individuals are looking to embarrass the officer they expect to encounter, and too often an officer falls into the trap. This generally happens when the subject in question knows the law better than the cop, when the cop loses his/her cool while the subject rolls video, or some combination of the two. 

In hopes that I can help cops out there to ensure against being the latest YouTube sensation (and not in a good way), here's a brief list of things to keep in mind when encountering open carry advocates.

Know your local law
Know your weapons
Keep your cool
Use command presence
Use verbal judo
Remain professional
Maintain your 360
Remember ‘plus one’
Call for backup
Watch the hands

Add your own ideas in the comments area below. Let’s have a conversation here folks, because by all indications we’re going to be seeing more of these contacts, not less.  


About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Read more articles by PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie by clicking here.

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