8 tips on contacts with 'open carry' citizens
Open carry is gaining momentum in areas of the country that won’t allow concealed carry permits, or where those permits are so highly restricted as to be all but impossible to obtain. Debates and arguments for and against open carry are fueling increasing concerns and outright alarm on both sides.
Proponents for open carry argue that government officials in certain areas of the country routinely deny issuance of concealed carry permits and generally have an anti-gun or elitist mentality. Proponents argue also that in so doing, the government denies the right of self protection to the individual, which has in turn, helped to spark the growth of open carry as an alternative strategy for self defense.
Opponents argue that open carry creates alarm, unease, and increased threat to both citizens and law enforcement officers. Opponents argue also that open carry increases risk factors, social unrest, and general lawlessness.
In my PoliceOne article on dealing with citizens legally carrying a concealed weapon, I dealt with some of the issues already and I suggest reading that article for background.
I support the right to both own and carry a weapon for self defense, sport, or what have you. This right is supported and articulated both in the United States Constitution and in applicable laws found nationwide. I am also in support of law enforcement officers and others who wish to be able to feel safer in their dealings with people on the street.
In the end, we have to look at what the law allows and be able to deal with a legal activity, regardless of our personal feelings on the matter.
In Hunting Country
Wildlife officers, deputy sheriffs, and other law enforcement officials routinely contact people openly carrying loaded and unloaded firearms for legitimate purposes. It is simply a fact of life and part of the job.
While there are criminal types who like to hunt and fish etc., the vast majority of gun enthusiasts afield are morally-responsible citizens who are ethical human beings. While I have had encounters with hunters in the field who were acting in an irresponsible manner, I can tell you that such incidents were rare when compared to the number of positive contacts I’ve had.
Open carry doesn’t fit into the hunting or sporting use of firearms. It really isn’t about hunting or sport shooting. It’s about the fundamental right of self defense and is a form of political protest. There are many internet forum discussions on open carry that deal specifically with this type of organized protest.
Signs of the Times
For the law enforcement officer, any type of weapon being carried, openly or concealed, appears as a threat to their well being and is therefore regarded as a hazard. The common perceptions of a person carrying openly is an escalation of perceived threat, potential for violence, possibility of the weapon carrier being targeted during criminal activity such as a bank robbery, and the possibility of an “untrained” person causing more harm than good in violent encounters. Add to that list the general unease from people who are simply not comfortable with the idea of people who are not cops, not in uniform, but running around with guns on their hips.
Further, what is to keep others with less than pure motivations from carrying openly? It’s feasible that gang members and militia types — who, obviously, do not have firearm ownership prohibitions stemming from prior criminal activity — could also legally carry under open carry conditions.
Officer Safety Issues
As with concealed carry, there seems to be a lot of hypothetical rhetoric in regards to threat situations of “what could happen?” versus “what does history show us has happened?” Is there a heightened state of criminal activity associated with open carry versus concealed carry versus no carry (other than the obvious firearms violation for school zone or whatnot)?
The answer appears to be “not really.” Regardless of opinions or beliefs, there is not a spike in criminal activity associated with merely carrying a firearm. The same is true of concealed carry. It is always the intent of the person, not the firearm, that matters.
Practical Tactics & Strategies
I suspect that just like concealed carry, most of the perceived threats will not come to pass and it will largely be a live-and-let-live situation we’ll just have to deal with. In time, perhaps concealed carry laws will pass in those jurisdictions that don’t allow them, and citizens can move on to concealed carry as a means of carrying a weapon legally if they so choose.
Then, of course, you will have another set of issues to consider...
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