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8 tips on police contacts with open carry citizens

Open carry laws may be concerning, but gun rights are fundamental in the US. Almost all states are open carry states - here's how to safety deal with this


This article was updated on August 27, 2017.

Nearly every state in the US is an open carry state. Debates and arguments for and against open carry laws are fueling increasing concerns and outright alarm on both sides.

Proponents for open carry argue that government officials in certain areas of the country make it difficult to get 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.

In this Jan. 26, 2015 file photo, a supporter of open carry gun laws, wears a pistol as he prepares for a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
In this Jan. 26, 2015 file photo, a supporter of open carry gun laws, wears a pistol as he prepares for a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

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.

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 gun laws allow and be able to deal with a legal activity, regardless of our personal feelings on the matter.

Open Carry Law and Officer Safety

For citizens concerned with legitimate self-defense, open carry is a way to actually be able to do that. Some of the reasons I have come across have to do with the perception of poor police presence and response times, the downsizing of police forces as the economy has worsened, the early release of criminals from penal institutions, and the feeling of being more at risk in today’s society in general.

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.

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 FOR OPEN CARRY RESPONSE

So, what can you do as a law enforcement officer or, as a citizen? Here are some thoughts to ponder as well as tips to go by.

1. Open carry is a legal right. Regardless of where personal beliefs may lie, it carries the weight of law and cannot be ignored, pushed aside, or worked around.

2. Understand that — as with any belief that people feel strongly about — open carry is a form of political protest. While the majority will do what is asked of them without a lot of fuss, there will be extremists who are willing to be political martyrs by doing whatever it takes to push their agenda and raise awareness to their cause.

3. Targeting open carry by finding ways to charge people with other violations and then ticketing or arresting them may backfire and could be very expensive in the long run (civil liberties violations, etc.).

4. Know the letter of the law and the interpretations of the law in various districts. Have a written document that can be referred to online or given to those parties interested in them.

5. Even if you don’t agree with open carry, stay objective and keep your feelings to yourself. It is the behavior of the person — not the gun — that we key on. If they get annoyed and start protesting you, remember that unless they are threatening you with harm, they have a right to voice their opinion, even if they raise their voice at you.

6. It still takes time to draw and load the firearm. It can be done in around two seconds for well-trained individuals. As with any contact, watch the hands and body language.

7. Follow good judgment. IF THERE IS PROBABLE CAUSE to treat them as an armed criminal, by all means do so. However, when you make contact with someone carrying openly without good probable cause, the strategy of “when in doubt, prone 'em out” would not be my first choice. Keep your distance if you can, and ask questions so you can get some indicators of the mental/emotional state of the contact prior to moving in closer.

8. From an officer safety perspective, at least you know that they are carrying a weapon! That knowledge alone will keep you from becoming complacent. Think of it as an opportunity to practice your officer safety tactics.

Conclusion

The right to self-defense — as well as the right to keep and bear arms — is fundamental and has huge support in this country. Open carry has come about because of perceived government infringement on those rights. You as a law enforcement officer will be looked upon as part of that infringement and will incur indignation, hostility, and anger expressed as verbal or non-verbal protest. Don’t take it personally. They see government when you contact them. Stay calm, professional, watchful, and respectful.

A side note to the citizen carrying openly: You should expect to be contacted law enforcement. You should expect to be feared by some, and considered to be a person of interest to many. Understand that by wearing a weapon in the open, you raise the perceived threat level in the eyes of law enforcement and other citizens. Friendly behavior goes a long way. People key on behavior rather than the weapon. Most folks respond well to a smile, polite behavior or a warm hello rather than a cold stare. I recommend that approach. You will be surprised how many people respond in a positive manner when you do that. Actually, this holds true on both sides of an open carry discussion, contact, or encounter ...

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